Matteo Jorgenson shakes his head. There’s no putting a shine on things. Not right now, two minutes after he crossed yet another finish line without reward. Not when the sting of missed opportunity is still sharp. “Uuuuugghhh,” he groans toward his soigneur, taking a swig out of a recovery bottle, as the cameras close in.
He’s agitated but measured. He is deeply, profoundly disappointed. It wafts off him so heavily that the assembled TV reporters can’t seem to shake it, either. For the second time in five days, Jorgenson answers questions angled at finding a silver lining where there isn’t one.
He’s less diplomatic this time. “Third versus fourth, it doesn’t matter,” he says, terse. “The win is what counts.”
He was so close. He was the strongest in the group, his breakaway companion Tobias Johannessen told us. You could see it on TV, too. Big pulls, strong pulls, putting the Tour stage winners and one-time contenders for the yellow jersey deep in the pain cave without a flashlight, as American announcer Dave Towle would say. His loss, in the end, was one of tactics and timing and group dynamics, and that makes it harder somehow. When you lose on strength, after doing everything you can, that’s easier to accept. What’s harder is knowing things could have gone differently.
Last Sunday, Jorgenson was caught on the final steep slopes of the Puy de Dôme after 48 kilometers alone. He is not a small man; well over six feet, and he couldn’t stay ahead of the likes of Mike Woods in terrain like that. On that day, the defeat was purely physical. Jorgenson was able to come to terms with it quickly. “I spent the rest day kind of just sitting there thinking about what I could have done differently,” he told me Thursday morning, before stage 12. “You just kind of look at it and try to analyze what you could have done. But I think I concluded that I did the right things, and in the end, I just ran out of steam, so there wasn’t much more to do.”
Stage 12 will feel different to him, even though he finished one place higher in third. Ion Izagirre was strong, no doubt. He held off half a dozen of the strongest riders in this Tour de France and he did so alone. But the cohesion behind was poor. Izagirre’s teammate, Guillaume Martin, sat on the back of the group. Thibaut Pinot’s pulls were half-hearted. “He wasn’t cooperating,” Jorgenson says. Jorgenson’s Movistar teammate Ruben Guerreiro was dropped with Dylan Teuns, who is suffering from back problems. Only Tiesj Benoot and Jorgenson, and occasionally Mathieu Bergadeau, seemed fully committed. It doesn’t take much for a chase to break down when it has passengers.
“I was just so marked,” Jorgenson says. “I kept trying to go after him, but every time I had Pinot or Bergadeau with me, I couldn’t seem to get away from them. I had the legs to go with [Izagirre], for sure, but the moment he went, I was kind of at the back.”
It’s been a difficult Tour start for Jorgenson. Movistar lost its leader on the first stage, when Enric Mas crashed out. There was no real plan B, Jorgenson said. He floated, listless, for a few stages. “Bored. So bored,” he said before stage 12. With his leader gone and a first week tilted toward either GC men or sprinters, he rode along at the back of the pack.
“You’re a dead body back there, following the wheels until you get dropped at the end. Those days you’re the most mentally disconnected, your legs hurt the most,” he said. “You have no objective in the race. You can’t ride at the front because you have no reason to be there and they’re not going to let you ride up there. So you’re at the back just waiting to get dropped. And it’s a brutal place to be, mentally.”
He knew he had good legs though. The question was when to use them. Like most breakaway artists, he looks for stages that are hard but not too hard – he’s too big for the high mountains, and flat stages go to sprinters. That narrows the available options down to just a small handful. Puy de Dôme was one. He identified the lumpy ride into Belleville-en-Beaujolais Thursday as by far the best option. “I’ll do everything to be in that move,” he said Thursday morning.
It took more than 90 kilometers for the break to form. In the end, only the strongest made it. Jorgenson was in elite company, and when the peloton finally approved of the group’s composition and let off the gas, they pulled out more than five minutes.
Jorgenson will replay the moment Izagirre went for some time. Could he have followed? Yes, probably. But stage-hunting is a patient man’s game. Normally, a single rider would struggle to stay out that long. Decisions have to be made in a split second.
Before the stage, Jorgenson was philosophical about the plight of the breakaway rider. “The only thing to keep doing is keep trying,” he said. “The more times you try, the more chances you’ll have.”
That’s a nice sentiment, and we like to tie little bows on sporting sorrows. The good guys always come back in the end. The last goal is scored, the triumphant returners return triumphantly. But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, chances run out. Sometimes you have to come back next year.
Matteo Jorgenson will probably win a Tour de France stage someday. He is strong enough, smart enough, tenacious enough. Until then, no need to put a shine on coming close. Disappointment can be fuel. Better to just keep trying.
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