Jonas Vingegaard calmly crossed the finish line, weaved through the crowds and the buses of his rivals at the Tour de France, calmly handed his bike over to a mechanic before walking up the stairs. Once out of sight, but not out of earshot, he let out a massive “YES!!!”
Jumbo-Visma are the new meticulous preppers of the peloton. Like how (usually) middle-aged men all over the world storing cans of beans and water purification tablets in underground sheds sided with corrugated iron, the Dutch team dial every aspect, in the same unfeeling way as Team Sky once did, all in pursuit of victory. They trace out every scenario of eventualities of what could happen once they step off the bus in the morning. The only difference between men called Gavin from the American northwest and Jumbo-Visma, is that the latter are always bracing for Tadej Pogačar to make their sky fall in on itself, shattering their golden-bussed, hashtag-branded dream of once again beating the Slovenian to the yellow jersey.
The mind-mapping of various stage 5 race scenarios would doubtless have included what to do if Vingegaard dropped Pogačar on the Col de Marie Blanque. But the fact it actually did happen was another thing entirely.
Our Danish colleagues in the press room have told us the main thing Vingegaard learned last year through his overall victory and has subsequently carried into this Tour is that he now knows he can win the Tour. It’s all there, he’s had the parade, it’s on his Wikipedia. Irrefutable proof, and the Dutch team only deal in facts.
The race scenario that unfurled on stage 5 used to exist only in theory, but now we have a new entry into the thin binder of evidence documenting Pogačar being eclipsed at the Tour de France. And the fact that both Vingegaard and his directors were surprised at the Slovenian’s loss of more than a minute in the general classification speaks to how they are still wiping the sleep out of their eyes from the Pogačar-infused nightmares that haunted their dreams for two long years. They can take the race to him, and with devastating consequences.
Sure, maybe Pogačar’s light-heartedness over these opening stages, the dominant displays of power, were all smoke and mirrors to hide whatever Pogačar was shown to be missing today. Jumbo-Visma have never truly bought the vibes Pogačar is selling, and their stress test of him on the first true mountain stage told them what they wanted to hear.
“First of all the plan was to have a few guys in the break,” Vingegaard said, breaking down the stage from his perspective. “To have a satellite rider [was meant] more in defence actually, because we thought this wasn’t the perfect stage for me. But yeah then when they started riding on the last climb I had the feeling I had good legs so I said to Sepp maybe he goes on the front and he did and I decided to attack as well.
“Actually, yes, I wanted to test him a bit,” Vingegaard explained of his surprise at dropping Pogačar. “My legs were good and I’m super happy with where I am.”
“Yeah, actually, yes,” sports director Merijn Zeeman added of whether he was also surprised of Pogačar’s inability to match the defending champion. “But of course … yeah. It was a nice surprise. A good surprise.”
With Wout van Aert placed up the road, and pushing the impetus of the race out front all day long until the Marie Blanque, UAE Team Emirates were forced into a chase, the Belgian champion dragging a big group clear including the new yellow jersey, Jai Hindley.
“I’m not surprised [that UAE worked so hard],” Zeeman said. “They have yellow and Hindley was in front so that was also logical.”
“I mean we talked this scenario through but we thought it would be really hard to go,” Vingegaard added. “It would have been even nicer if we’d had one guy at the top of course, that would be the dream scenario, but we went super fast on the climb and you cannot expect the guys to be there on the top.”
Had Van Aert found the extra energy needed at the bottom of his own Mary Poppins’ bag of watts to still be in touch over the top, Hindley could have maybe even been brought back, but the Australian finished half a minute clear and has nearly a minute’s advantage over Vingegaard on GC.
“Of course he’s 47 seconds in front, he’s the Giro winner so we take him very seriously,” Zeeman said.
“I think today was also very clear how the spirit in the team is because Wout cannot win this stage and gave everything to be in front and work so hard so I think this was the answer that people were suggesting. That was also clear to the spirit in the team.”
Despite the slight goading from Pogačar over the race so far, the playful jibes and laid-back attitude that only enhanced Jumbo-Visma’s steely exterior, the Dutch team’s focus and seriousness has paid dividends. Such soberness, despite one squeaked exhalation of relief mixed with joy behind the tinted windows of the bus, means they will be on high alert every day until Paris, the drawbridge being ratcheted up a further notch until Hindley is reeled in and Pogačar extinguished.
“I think it’s clear that the Tourmalet is a super hard climb, one of the hardest of the Tour so it would be strange to not expect something there,” Zeeman said, already looking towards tomorrow’s tough stage 6. “And then the Cauterets-Cambrasque has a really steep part in it and so we’ll see differences again. That’s something to find out.” Undoubtedly there’s a plan, maybe several.
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