Defeat by bonus seconds: UAE’s plan to vanquish Vingegaard

Pogačar has taken 11 seconds on the defending champion over the first two days of racing.

Jonny Long
by Jonny Long 02.07.2023 Photography by
Gruber Images, Cor Vos & Jonny Long
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It would appear that UAE Team Emirates and Tadej Pogačar have picked up where they left off from last year’s Tour de France: racing on the front foot in an attempt to shake off Jumbo-Visma and Jonas Vingegaard.

It seems an identical approach, the difference this year being that only two stages have been covered so far and hasn’t (yet) met a big mountain and suffered a tag-teamed implosion delivered by the Dutch squad. Instead, his superior sprint has seen him gobble up bonus seconds at finish lines and the top of climbs to take an advantage of 11 seconds over Vingegaard. If he can’t drop Vingegaard outright, maybe he can defeat him a handful of bonus seconds at a time over three weeks.

Pogačar hinted at this in his pre-race press conference, almost bemoaning the fact that the bonus seconds were taken out of stage 1’s Côte de Pike.

“If I am ready then there is a chance to take time but they cancelled out the bonus so there goes eight seconds,” the Slovenian said in Bilbao. “I will try to do my best; if I can take a second here or there I would like to do it.”

Following a day where Mikkel Bjerg, Vegard Stake Laengen, and Rafal Majka took the race to the peloton – maybe unexpectedly given how early on in the race it is – UAE general manager José Fernández Matxin summed up the plan from the team bus in the morning succinctly: “Take the bonus at the top and take the bonus in the final.”

“Maintain one pace, don’t complicate it, not afford the breakaways [too much time], not afford the interest to the stage,” Matxin elaborated of how his team approached stage 2. “We maintained our pace, and we race in the final, accelerate the race to take the position and actually pull in the final climb to take the bonus seconds.” There was a moment caught on television where Mikkel Bjerg was gesticulating, apparently asking whether the team should continue after Matteo Trentin’s crash, while another saw Stake Laengen told to take it easier when pushing the pace, as they didn’t need to take so many risks.

Matteo Trentin after stage 2.

Mauro Gianetti, UAE’s team principal, also referenced the fact that not only do UAE want to defend their yellow jersey, but that Tour tradition almost dictates you don’t treat it flippantly.

“It’s again seven seconds,” he said of the advantage gained by Pogačar over Vingegaard. “We work a lot, we need to work, we have to defend the yellow jersey. We respect the yellow jersey. We respect Adam Yates in the yellow jersey. It was important to work. Today the work paid, seven seconds is seven seconds. Now between today and yesterday it’s already 11 seconds. So slowly, slowly, everything will be important.

“We need to take the time when it’s possible, and today it was possible to take a few seconds and it was good to take it.”

Tomorrow, Gianetti expects that the sprinters’ teams will finally step in, and take their turn at controlling the race as they vie for stage victory.

And more to the point, UAE are now completely sold that Pogačar is at the level to challenge Jonas Vingegaard for the yellow jersey, as the pair have so far shown they seem to be head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.

“We were very confident because the numbers were showing good preparation, a good level,” Gianetti said of how the team had analysed Pogačar heading into the Tour. “But it’s always important to show it in the race. Yesterday we had confirmation and today again we had confirmation Tadej is in good shape. Probably he can increase his level during this Tour de France but at least we started in a very good position.”

But how long will the team defend Yates’ yellow jersey?

“Day by day,” was Gianetti’s cliché, coy answer.

“We continued the lead with Adam, we fought in the stage. We took the bonus on the climb and in the final,” Matxin concluded, summing up a first two days at the Tour that couldn’t have gone much better for Pogačar, his team, and the yellow jersey Adam Yates.

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