Five minutes and counting. That’s the clock that Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma are left watching at this year’s Tour de France.
The Tour’s two heavyweight squads have been left battered, bruised and on the back foot after an attritional opening week of the Tour.
Primož Roglič has abandoned the race. Geraint Thomas is so far out of contention he could be back in Wales. Ineos Grenadiers’ last-man-standing Richard Carapaz was blown out of the water by an imperious Tadej Pogačar on Saturday.
- Pogačar stomps on GC rivals in the Alps
- Kuss looks to light up the mountains
- Vingegaard and his unexpected Tour de France calling
With Pogačar clutching a five-minute lead over all his main rivals, what next for Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers?
Keep trying and see what sticks, that’s what.
“I think he [Pogačar] is certainly the strongest rider in the race but there’s a very long way to go. As we’ve seen so far, all sorts of things are happening this year,” Ineos Grenadiers boss Dave Brailsford told Wielerflits on Saturday.
“We have already seen top favorites such as Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglič drop out of the standings … Pogačar dominates now, but that doesn’t mean nothing can happen to him. We just have to keep fighting for our position.”
A clutch of established GC riders is caught in a tightly-knit ball behind the imperious Pogačar, with Carapaz elbowing alongside Rigoberto Urán and Wilco Kelderman at around five minutes back.
Jumbo-Visma duo Jonas Vingegaard – initially slated for domestique duties in his Tour debut – and classics heavyweight Wout van Aert are also in range.
On paper, Jumbo-Visma is best placed to challenge Pogačar in the GC. However, with Roglič out, backup GC guy Steven Kruijswijk at 22-minutes, and the rest of the team reeling after a crash-riddled opening week, the Dutch squad is considering a wider pivot.
Primoz Roglic won’t start in today’s stage of @LeTour. He suffers too much from his injuries.
Get well soon @rogla 🍀
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) July 4, 2021
“We wanted to go for something big in this Tour, but we are all realistic,” climbing ace Sepp Kuss told VeloNews‘ Andrew Hood on Saturday. “Now we have to shift the focus.”
“Now we can maybe shoot for the podium, or maybe try for some breakaways.”
Van Aert is a rider constantly able to defy expectations, but it’s unlikely the burly Belgian is going to eat into the 1:48 margin to Pogačar – particularly after he was distanced on the opening day in the mountains Saturday.
The team could pivot to rising Danish all-rounder Vingegaard with his solid TT and assured climbing chops. But Jumbo-Visma brass says it’s too soon for the 24-year-old.
“For Jonas, it is his first Tour de France. He is given time to learn and gain experience,” sport director Merijn Zeeman said Saturday.
“We have a long-term plan with him. This is a very welcome experience for him in that plan. In the future we will set higher goals for Jonas in the Tour de France, but that will not be for this year.”
It could be all-in for the breakaways from stage 9 onward for the depleted Jumbo-Visma crew. Kuss and van Aert set the tone with attacking racing on stage 8, but Vingegaard may have to lose GC time if he wants to follow suit.
In contrast, Ineos Grenadiers plans to plow on with its classification ambition, but may need to resort to a “Plan B” after initially hoping to play a multi-rider approach. Carapaz was blown from Pogačar’s wheel tracks Saturday, but the Ecuadorian packs the explosivity and his team has the depth and the experience to challenge, even if the injured Thomas were to follow Roglič in the list of DNFs.
He moves up to sixth place overall on GC, +5:01 back on new leader Pogacar. pic.twitter.com/hdXtUVLQAo
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) July 3, 2021
“Obviously Carapaz is the strongest in our team, and he’s brave. He tried Friday and again today (i.e., Saturday) and I like that,” Brailsford said. “He has that attitude of going on the offensive and we’ll keep on doing that.”
Ineos Grenadiers has no option but to keep pressing with Carapaz given UAE-Team Emirates won’t allow the Ecuadorian the rope to go for breakaway stage wins. Ineos Grenadiers will have to keep banging at the door and hope to find an opening in Pogačar’s armor.
UAE-Team Emirates put on a show of defiance on the Col de Romme on Saturday as it set up Pogačar’s attack. But whether Brandon McNulty, Davide Formolo, and Rafal Majka can withstand the squeeze from Richie Porte, Tao Geoghegan Hart, and Michal Kwiatkowski in the long grinding peaks of the Tignes summit finish on Sunday or the Ventoux on Wednesday (stage 11) is another matter.
For now, Ineos Grenadiers will plow on and hope.
The first week of this Tour has seen more plot twists and surprises than most races pack into a full 21 stages. Pogačar may be the next victim of an unlikely surprise.
At least, that’s what Ineos Grenadiers will be hoping for.
“We should not resign ourselves to the rule of Pogacar now, but realize that after every corner the situation can be completely different,” Brailsford said.