For the second time in 24 hours at the Tour de France, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) crossed the line in third place, this time at the stage 18 summit to Luz Ardiden, but the Ecuadorian appeared far more satisfied with Thursday’s outcome as his place on the final podium in Paris now seems increasingly likely.
Ineos Grenadiers turned in a strong collective performance both on the upper slopes of the Tourmalet and the lower slopes of Luz Ardiden, with Tao Geoghegan Hart in particular putting in a hugely impressive six-kilometre turn on the front.
Carapaz said later that the team had been hoping for the stage win.
But as Enric Mas (Movistar) tried two timid moves close to the summit and then Tour leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) upped the pace, the Ineos rider's attack never came.
Even so as Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), previously fourth overall, cracked badly after Luz Ardiden, Carapaz' chances of becoming his country’s first-ever Tour podium finisher look increasingly likely.
“I’m very pleased after all the team’s hard work for me. We wanted the stage win but I was up there right until the end and that’s got to be positive,” Carapaz said later.
“I’m satisfied with that result. There were people who were much stronger than us, but you lose nothing if you try.”
Having opted out of controlling the front of the peloton on Wednesday, Ineos Grenadiers were very much back to their traditional strategy of piling on the pressure on the final ascents of the Pyrenees.
Dylan Van Baarle and Michal Kwiatkowski laid down a solid pace over the top of the Tourmalet, where Urán began to struggle. Then the Polish former World Champion brought the peloton up to the last lone attacker David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) on the lower slopes of Luz Ardiden.
In a promising sign for later in the stage, Carapaz briefly moved out of the line, looking to see who was being shredded by his team’s work as another former Giro d’Italia winner Geoghegan Hart began a prolonged turn on the front.
The last part of the Ineos Grenadiers support team, Jonathan Castroviejo, fell behind much more quickly when Pogačar’s last man standing, Rafal Majka, upped the pace three kilometres from the line, but Carapaz was still there and waiting.
Yet for all he was caught out at the finish and could not finish off his team’s good work, the Ecuadorian preferred to take an upbeat view as a top-three finish in Paris is now all but set in stone for him.
“Third is good,” he said. “I’ve been in the fight all the way through and in a time trial of 30 kilometres like the one on Saturday, normally the podium will stay how it is.”
Although Carapaz is only four seconds behind second-placed Vingegaard, the Dane is a much stronger time triallist and should have no problem keeping Carapaz behind him on GC.
Much more importantly, though, has more than a two minute cushion over Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroen), not a renowned time triallist. That’s an infinitely preferable situation to when his previous advantage of two minutes was over Urán, a much more formidable racer against the clock than the Australian.
As things stand, Carapaz is now in line to complete his set of top three finishes in all three Grand Tours, following his victory in the Giro d’Italia in 2019 and a second place in the 2020 Vuelta a España. Considering how close all the GC chasers behind Pogačar were on time after the Mont Ventoux and even following last Sunday’s Pyrenean opener, that is no mean achievement.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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