Joao Almeida leads Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar, and Remco Evenepoel high on the Col du Galibier. The view down valley shows a sheer drop and a steep mountain filling the rest of the frame.

Just how they drew it up: Pogačar and UAE land a blow on the Tour’s first high-mountain stage

Tadej Pogačar is back in yellow after he and his team shine on both sides of the Col du Galibier.

Dane Cash
by Dane Cash 02.07.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images & Cor Vos
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UAE Team Emirates showed up to the first high-mountain stage of the 2024 Tour de France intent on putting Tadej Pogačar’s rivals to the test, and the team did just that going up and over the legendary Col du Galibier. When the dust settled in Valloire, Pogačar stood atop the podium as the stage winner, and also back atop the overall standings as the race leader with a significant gap back to Remco Evenepoel (Soudal-Quick Step) and Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike).

The Slovenian superstar confirmed in a post-race interview that extensive preparation had paid off for rider and team.

“This was more or less the plan and we executed it really well,” Pogačar said. “I wanted to hit hard today. I know this stage really well. I’ve been training here a lot of weeks already and in the past. It felt like a home stage passing through Sestriere and Montgenevre.”

Indeed, it is hard to imagine UAE executing any more perfectly. Although there is still plenty of Tour racing to come, Pogačar and his UAE team aced the first test as others faltered, both going up the Galibier and going down the other side. Moving forward, Pogačar will have a healthy cushion to play with (45 seconds to Evenepoel and 50 back to Vingegaard) and reason to be confident after a dominant showing from his whole team.

It was clear from the early goings of stage 4 that UAE wanted to set Pogačar up for success on the final climb as the team was unwilling to let the breakaway riders build up much of a gap. With UAE setting a hard tempo, the break was caught some 6 km out from the top of the hors categorie Galibier, the day’s final climb, and the team continued to drive a merciless pace through the next several minutes.

João Almeida leading the GC group on stage 4 of the Tour de France.
João Almeida’s pace-setting put paid to the ambitions of several GC hopefuls.

One GC pretender after another dropped off the back as Adam Yates and João Almeida traded pulls at the front. At one point, after Juan Ayuso had drifted to the back of the GC group, Almeida turned around and gesticulated emphatically to his teammate. If the other riders in the selection had been hoping that the moment of intra-team drama would give them a bit of respite, however, they were mistaken: Ayuso dutifully came to the front and went to work.

UAE’s efforts left Jonas Vingegaard without any teammates, as Matteo Jorgenson lost touch along with so many other riders, including overnight race leader Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost).

“It was a question to see the teams’ power, to try to see and understand how they are, the other teams, not only the leader,” UAE team boss Mauro Gianetti said after the stage. “We pulled, did a high pace, but Tadej was feeling good and he asked them to pull a little bit harder.”

The other teams and their leaders were ultimately found wanting. The group was down to just a handful of riders when Pogačar made his move, and Vingegaard was the only rider who could follow at first, but then Pogačar found some daylight near the top of the Galibier, nabbing bonus seconds at the top.

“At first it was a lot of headwind in the climb, so on the wheel it was not super hard, but the team did a super good job,” Pogačar explained after the stage. “I didn’t want to go too early because of the wind and I had to do all the difference in could in the last few hundred meters.”

Tadej Pogačar rounds a wet switchback high on the Col du Galibier. The road is lined with fans and snowbanks and in the distance a snow-covered flank of a mountain looms.
While headwinds made it tricky to time an attack, Pogačar’s small gap on the climb meant Vingegaard (just out of frame to the left) was isolated on the descent chase.

As it turned out, he made some difference near the top of the climb but far more going down the other side. At first, Vingegaard seemed to be descending at roughly the same speed as Pogačar, but as the downhill run to the finish continued, Pogačar started pulling out a big gap.

“I know the downhill but I was a little bit surprised to see wet roads in the first few corners, so it was a bit scary, but this descent is super fast and if you know the road it helps,” Pogačar said.

Both Pogačar and Vingegaard had trained on these roads ahead of the Tour, but it was clear by the second half of the descent that Pogačar was more comfortable as he sped towards Valloire. While Pogačar secured a further 10 bonus seconds at the line with his stage victory, Vingegaard was ultimately caught by a few other chasing GC hopefuls and was even slightly distanced in the sprint to the line, therefore missing out on the bonuses.

In addition to Pogačar’s own dominant showing, his teammates also proved their form on a day that will have UAE looking forward to more opportunities to apply pressure to Vingegaard and Co.

“It was a great performance from all the team, especially João Almeida and Juan Ayuso on the Galibier, and to finalize this great work with Tadej Pogačar, incredible achievement,” Gianetti said.

“Over the next two a half weeks remaining to have Ayuso and Almeida in such good condition and also not far in the GC will allow us to play a very good game.”

Time will tell whether the rest of the yellow jersey hopefuls will up to challenge the next time UAE goes to work.

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