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With La Super Planche des Belles Filles looming on the horizon on Friday, any rider with a strong climbing ability has a chance to progress up the general classification of the Tour de France.
That list includes Aleksandr Vlasov, who starts the stage in seventh overall, 52 seconds back, but his general classification ambitions could have taken a serious dent on Thursday’s stage.
The Russian crashed inside the final 10 kilometers, falling on a descent before the penultimate climb. It caused panic within his Bora-Hansgrohe squad, with his teammates amassing to help him back to the group.
“It was unfortunate about that crash,” Vlasov said after the stage. “I saw this island in the middle…I didn’t expect it. I could see it and I was prepared, but a rider in front of me crashed and there was no way for me [to avoid it].
“When I crashed the guys waited immediately and they did a great job to bring me back. We chased hard and I was back in the first group around four kilometers to go.
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“The team reacted fast. They worked really well together to bring Aleks back and the commitment was great again. So, I think we did everything right and saved the day in the end.”
Vlasov’s quick return to the front group was fortunate; general classification rival Primož Roglič had a much tougher time on the previous stage, with the Jumbo-Visma rider losing a chunk of time because of his own fall.
Once back in the group, the pressure was on all the way to the finish. Vlasov said that he had to dig in. “I just tried to survive on the wheels then.”
He ultimately lost five seconds to stage winner and new overall leader Tadej Pogačar, who was strongest on the uphill rise to the line. Vlasov placed 16th, one place behind 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers), who was on the wrong side of a slight split in the bunch. UCI rules state that time gaps are taken from the front of each group, meaning that if the split had been less than a second Vlasov wouldn’t have lost any time.
It was unlucky, but in the bigger context of his late crash and frenzied chase, an acceptable outcome.
“In the end I lost just five seconds, and those probably because I had to go full for the last eight kilometers,” he said. “But I felt good the whole day again and even after the crash I could push hard, so I am confident also about the next days. I have some cuts and scratches but it’s not too bad, I think.”
Now 26, Vlasov took a number of good results last season, including second overall in Paris-Nice, third in the Tour of the Alps and fourth in the Giro d’Italia. He moved to Bora-Hansgrohe and stepping things up a level, winning the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana and the Tour de Romandie, and was leading the Tour de Suisse but had to withdraw due to COVID-19.
Bora-Hansgrohe took the decision to leave 2020 green jersey winner Sam Bennett at home in order to focus on a podium challenge with Vlasov. Friday’s stage to La Super Planche des Belles Filles should give an indication if this target is a valid one.