Urán moves up to second in Tour de France after steady Mont Ventoux ride
Colombian veteran takes over from O'Connor as Australian cracks
Veteran Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) has moved up to second overall in the Tour de France standings almost by default after Australian rival Ben O'Connor cracked on the Mont Ventoux on stage 11.
Urán looked in great shape almost all the way up the Ventoux, only falling back after Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) attacked and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) bridged across.
But the Colombian and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) then caught up with a struggling Pogačar. Following a fast descent, Urán powered home in Maulacène with the two other favourites in the fifth spot. With O'Connor out of the frame for the day, second place on GC was all but automatically his to claim.
Urán last held second in the 2017 Tour de France when he finished in the runner up spot behind Chris Froome.
But as EF Education-Nippo sports director Tom Southam said afterwards, there are too many riders in a similar time to see this as a decisive move towards a podium finish by Urán. After stage 11, four riders are within one minute and two more within two minutes of the Colombian, with Enric Mas (Movistar) the furthest adrift in this group at 7:11.
"The first thing today was we had to see how O'Connor was because he's a bit of an unknown quantity in the GC battle," Southam told Cyclingnews. "He was really strong in Tignes and if he'd recovered well, we wanted to see what sort of factor he was going to be."
"That took care of itself. But there was still a similar group time-wise around Vingegaard, Mas and so on. So today was the first day when we saw some answers to what's going on between them."
However, those answers are far from being definitive. As Southam pointed out, the time gaps between the Urán group containing Carapaz and Vingegaard are still minimal. Furthermore, neither Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech), now sixth overall, nor Mas has fallen that far off the pace despite having rough days on the Ventoux.
"There's still quite a lot going on in those spots. It's not like we're going 'great, that's kind of something we can roll along with'. There's quite a lot of work left to be done."
"UAE didn't have to work today and they never will because they're so far ahead. So it's going to be interesting."
Like Merijn Zeeman (Jumbo-Visma) told reporters on the line, Southam does not believe that Pogačar's 'wobble' at the Ventoux summit is a foretaste of a major collapse.
"It would be nice to think maybe it was a chink in the armour, that maybe he came into the race super hot. That time trial [where Pogačar won] does feel like a long time ago. I feel as though it was just a bit of a bad day.
"There were 20 degrees temperature difference between here and Tignes. And it's been really hard racing from the start.
"So I think it'd actually be hard for anybody not to have a hard day at some point. Today doesn't make me think he's on the ropes, put it that way."
But as for the rest of the field beyond Pogačar, Urán's position on the GC classification could not be bettered. And even if the gaps could be bigger, halfway through the Tour de France, that is hardly a bad place for any rider to be.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, 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. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The Independent, The Guardian, ProCycling, The Express and Reuters.