Memes aren’t truth. Fun isn’t truth. Posting a photo in the moments after another hard mountain stage saying you and your close rival are off for a coffee stop after the finish line isn’t truth. Time trials are truth.
On stage 16 we finally got some truth at the Tour de France. Truth in terms of who is looking more likely to win this bike race when previously they were joined at the hip in a battle of rigorous stress testing. Who had the legs, who would crack first. It turns out, we needed to separate them, by a few minutes on the same stretch of road, and pit them against their physiological and mental limits, as that seemed to be the only test left.
In the aftermath, when it’s been confirmed the gap between Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar has gone from seconds to minutes, as Vingegaard predicted, Mauro Gianetti corrects the reporter interviewing him on the time gap, already aware of the job at hand.
“1:48,” the UAE Team Emirates boss says, before attempting to provide an explanation for what we’ve just seen.
“We did not expect such a big gap today,” he begins. “Tadej, I think he did a very good time trial, in second with more than one minute over Wout van Aert, that is amazing in such a short time trial. But the reality is what it is. Jonas did an incredible time trial, wow, impressive, no? After the first time check we saw 16 seconds, wow, that is a good signal for Vingegaard not for us. Because by then every rider knows the number they can do or not. We were not expected they would start that fast, he was particularly strong.”
“Was the bike change a mistake?” the next question comes in. It sure looked clumsy.
“No, we needed to make the calculation with our bicycle, our skill, our rider. Not every rider reacts the same with the TT. We did all the tests and everything, it was clear for us it was an advantage to change the bike for Tadej and not change for Adam Yates, for example. It’s individual. It was clear from the beginning, we lost 10 seconds from the change of the bike, but it was expected. We had one minute to find so it was not the change of the bike.”
Our first glimpse of what may have gone wrong (a full autopsy definitely won’t happen until at least stage 20) is that Pogačar didn’t feel his best in the second half of the 22 km effort, while on the opposite side Vingegaard couldn’t believe the numbers he was putting out.
“If I’m honest I didn’t feel the best in the second part,” Pogačar admitted. “I still went pretty solid, I was feeling okay.
“It’s a big gap now. I was hoping for a lesser gap. I was hoping to be in yellow today. But that’s how it is. I hope it’s like [the] Marie Blanque stage so I can then have good legs the next day.”
“I think nothing went wrong,” Gianetti insisted. “Tadej did an incredible job.”
And the Tour isn’t over?
“Of course, everything is possible, it’s still one week, it’s not easy, realistically it’s complicated,” he continued. “But when you have one week in front of you, you need to hope, you need to dream. Now with the situation it’s important we have two guys on the podium [Adam Yates leapfrogged Ineos Grenadiers’ Carlos Rodriguez into third, he leads the Spaniard by five seconds]. But try to win the Tour is the first option.
“Tadej is a guy who likes it [to risk it all], so why not, but to risk all-in you need the legs.”
Pogačar was equally defiant. Fans may feel deflated after a scintillating, two-week-long GC battle, but if we’re looking for silver linings, you want a rider like the Slovenian chasing this bike race, a rider prepared to leave it all out their on the road.
“It’s definitely not over,” Pogačar answered. “Especially tomorrow if it’s raining. Then I can promise you it’s going to be interesting. Two more really hard stages to come, the hardest two of this Tour. Anything can happen, anyone can have a bad day. I hope this was like Marie Blanque [where he lost a minute] and the next is my day.”
“Will you ride differently?” came the next question from Seb Piquet, the voice of Radio Tour.
“How you mean?” Pogačar replied. How could he even imagine of riding differently to how he does already?
“Attack from far out?” Piquet clarified.
“We’ll try to make a plan and yeah, it’s not easy to gain two minutes.”
The Tour de France course designers aren’t done just yet, an epic Col de la Loze day tomorrow on stage 17 before a final stage 20 showdown. Don’t turn off your televisions just yet.
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