The first day of a Battle Royale in the Alps reduced the race for yellow even further as the top GC contenders took chunks out of one other on the way to Morzine. And it wasn’t just the Big Two, though Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard were naturally key protagonists, with Carlos Rodríguez entering the picture as a star in the mountains, both climbing and descending.
The 22-year-old Spaniard never had a significant gap on the descent, but he held on to take the biggest win of his career, making it two consecutive wins for the Ineos Grenadiers. As a bonus, he is now in third overall, one second clear of Jai Hindley for the final spot on the podium.
- Barely six kilometres had passed before a horrible crash sent riders sprawling across the road of a gritty descent outside the start town of Annemasse. The incident forced a 25-minute neutralisation of the stage as medics and team cars attended to the crashed riders. Antonio Pedrero (Movistar) and Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty) had abandoned by the restart, and by the end of the day, this and a later crash had taken five more victims.
- There was a fierce fight for an early breakaway with a number of iterations finding an advantage on the early climbs, but even the strongest break – including Julian Alaphilippe, Neilson Powless, Giulio Ciccone, Mikel Landa and Thibaut Pinot – couldn’t get much over a minute’s lead.
- Jumbo-Visma laid their cards on the table by keeping the gap small and ultimately closing down the breakaway with 58 km to go. The team of race leader Jonas Vingegaard kept the pressure on until the vicious Col de Joux Plane – leaving seventh-overall Tom Pidcock behind on the penultimate climb – and the work of Sepp Kuss and a superlative Wout van Aert reduced the group further.
- Race motos played an unfortunate role. When Pogačar laid down a stinging attack at 3.7 km from the summit, Vingegaard dangled behind while the Slovenian got a bit of a draft from two motos hovering close. The tables turned when Vingegaard made the catch, as Pogačar attacked again about 700 meters from the top in search of bonus seconds, but was immediately stymied by motos that couldn’t accelerate due to crowds. Instead Vingegaard countered and led over the summit.
- A slackened pace on the long saddle allowed Rodríguez, who had been dropped on the Joux Plane, to make the catch and he quickly surged to the front on the descent to go clear and hold on for a narrow win. Pogačar out-sprinted Vingegaard at the line to take six seconds over the Dane’s four, reducing the yellow jersey’s Joux Plane points haul to just one second.
- Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) 3:58:45
- Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) @ :05
- Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) @ same time
- Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) @ :10
- Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) @ :57
- Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) 57:47:28
- Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) @ :10
- Carlos Rodríguez (Ineos Grenadiers) @ 4:43
- Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) @ 4:44
- Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) @ 5:20
- There was a fair bit of movement in the GC top 10, at least below the top two where it continues to be just a few seconds here and there. Besides Rodríguez’s jump onto the podium, the biggest positive leaps come from Sepp Kuss and Felix Gall who move four and five steps apiece, into sixth and ninth overall. Jai Hindley slides into fourth – but only by one second – having lost 1:53, Simon Yates and Pello Bilbao rode in together about 3:26 after Rodríguez, while the biggest losers are David Gaudu, who hangs onto a top-10 placing despite losing 6:04, and Tom Pidcock, who will hope that his overall deficit of almost 15 minutes might afford him some freedom in the final week.
- Nothing has been signed, or at least, nothing has or can been confirmed before the window opens on 1st August, but Rodríguez is heavily linked to Movistar for 2024. So stage 14 may feel something like a win for the Spanish team too, which is in sore need of some good news.
- Pogačar may rightly rue the influence of the motorbikes on the final climb of the day, although he may also have benefited from their slipstream further down the mountain – before he was hampered in his attack for bonus seconds. Perhaps the bigger issue is that the fans weren’t held back from the road sooner. There was hoarding, and some carefully-ish positioned rope, in the last few-hundred metres, but below that point, neither Pogačar nor Vingegaard dared move amid the narrow channel of excited fans.
- Though the early breakaway was ultimately unable to make much of a dent on the stage, there was a fierce fight for KOM points on the early climbs. Polka-dot jersey-wearer Neilson Powless successfully made it into the day’s move, if you can call it that, along with Giulio Ciccone, Thibaut Pinot and Michael Woods, all of whom wanted a piece of the Mountains Classification. And with Powless ultimately conceding to his punchier rivals after second on the first climb, Ciccone took the lion’s share of available points, while Woods emerged as a keen contender, hoping to add to the points he scored with stage 9 victory on the Puy de Dôme. It was this pair who survived longest ahead of the peloton, but their campaign was over on the Col de la Ramaz. In the end it was Vingegaard, first over the Joux Plane summit, who took the lead in the KOM competition. He’s equal on points with Powless but took the tiebreaker based on his ride today.
- All that said, with the GC so close (at the top), every mountain stage is going to be vital between now and Paris, so there’s a fair chance the striking polka-dot jersey will be claimed outright by a GC contender, i.e. a rider in yellow or white, or both. Powless will of course continue to wear the jersey on Vingegaard’s behalf while the latter stays in the maillot jaune, but the American now faces a literal and figurative uphill struggle to remain in contention for the jersey already on his back… And if Vingegaard or Pogačar ends up receiving the polka-dot jersey in Paris, it will once again call into question the points allocation in that particular classification.
Quote of the day
Carlos Rodríguez was the surprise champion on a day that looked set to reward one or other of the top two on GC, but a dogged fight back after being dropped on the climb and an assured descent saw the 22-year-old Spaniard step into the spotlight, and into podium contention, surprising even himself.
“To be honest, I was just focused on doing the best climb I could, going for my own freedom and doing the descent as fast as possible,” said a still out-of-breath Rodríguez. “They started looking at each other. And I thought, if I pull them back I can go to the finish. I was thinking I can descend more or less well, so I wanted to take advantage of it. I took some risks without going to the absolute limit because I didn’t want to crash but I was close in a couple of corners that I though weren’t so sharp. Super happy.”
His victory comes just 24 hours after his teammate Michał Kwiatkowski took a spectacular breakaway win on the Grand Colombier. Did it inspire Rodríguez?
“Yeah, not only his victory but also his work. All the team. For example, today he was in the break, he dropped to come back and went to the car three times to get us bottles. That’s incredible. And it’s just those details that make the difference. I think that helped me accomplish this victory.”
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