Cycling fans, riders, and even race leader Tadej Pogačar have admitted to being shocked by the outcome of Saturday’s Tour de France individual time trial, which saw Pogačar vault past Primož Roglič into the yellow jersey on the slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles.
Well, we can add another person to that group: Jumbo-Visma managing director Richard Plugge.
On Sunday, Plugge admitted that he assumed Roglič’s 57-second advantage on Pogačar heading into the time trial was enough to hold the race lead into Paris.
“We were stunned. We thought 57 seconds was enough,” Plugge said. “It was a mistake to think that, it’s clear. We were really surprised at what we saw when Pogačar was so strong. I think Roglič was not at his best time trial, but not his worst time trial, so I think that we walked to the wall that is called Pogačar and he was really strong, and we have to live with that.”
Jumbo-Visma has been the strongest squad of the 2020 Tour de France, with three stage victories and 11 days in yellow during the race. The yellow squad has also controlled the tempo for many of the toughest days in the mountains, and its all-star lineup of Roglič, Tom Dumoulin, Sepp Kuss, and Wout van Aert has dominated the front group during the GC battles.
Plugge, 50, is the architect behind the squad’s steady growth over the past seasons. The team finished fourth and fifth at the 2018 Tour de France, and landed on the podium in 2019, when Steven Kruijswijk finished third. Winning the race seemed like the next logical step for the team, and Plugge confirmed that anything short of victory was a disappointment this year.
“We were here for a higher goal, and we didn’t achieve that,” Plugge said. “Yes, we can be proud of how we performed here, and how we raced, and the three stage wins. But we didn’t reach our goal, and we have to live with that. And now, it’s disappointing for everybody.”
Plugge said his advice for the squad was: “Get yourself together and go out with your heads high and show that we still have guts.”
Roglič vs. Pogačar became the focal point of the 2020 Tour de France during the first mountain stages, as Pogačar attacked relentlessly in the Pyrenees to try and erase a 1:21 gap he suffered in the crosswinds on stage 7. As the race progressed, other GC favorites, among them defending champion Egan Bernal, simply fell away as the two Slovenian riders battled for bonus seconds on each stage.
Roglič often rode alongside Pogačar on the summit attacks as Bernal and other riders languished behind.
Plugge declined to second-guess the team’s strategy throughout the race, which focused on attaining bonus seconds on the climbs prior to the Alps. Bernal, he said, posed a big threat, but so did Pogačar.
“We did what we could to grab as many seconds as we could also on Bernal at first — it wasn’t only Pogačar. He and Bernal were the two main contenders we saw up front,” Plugge said. “We tried to put as many seconds into them, and it worked out pretty well we thought, with the 57 seconds. And we did a great job. Afterward you can say it was wrong to do something, maybe, but we will have to analyze that for tomorrow.”
Pogačar’s blistering time trial came as something of a surprise, since the 21-year-old appeared to be tiring on the stages in the Alps. But Roglič’s off day was another surprise.
In the moments following Saturday’s stage, Roglič admitted that he was not at his best for the individual time trial, which included 30 kilometers of rolling terrain, followed by the fearsome 6-kilometer ascent of La Planche des Belles Filles. He still managed fifth on the day, however he ceded nearly two minutes to Pogačar.
Even his Jumbo-Visma teammate van Aert noted that Roglič lacked his customary smooth high-cadence snap on the steep climb.
“It is a combination of Pogačar that rode really fantastic while Primož did not reach his normal level that ensures this result,” van Aert told Dutch site NOS.nl.
This is not the first heartbreaking grand tour defeat for Jumbo-Visma. In 2016 Kruijswijk appeared to have an iron grip on the Giro d’Italia’s maglia rosa, only to crash into a snowbank atop the Colle dell’Angello and cede the lead to Colombian rider Esteban Chaves. Vincenzo Nibali eventually took the win. And in 2019, Roglič tumbled out of the pink jersey in a late implosion at the same race.
Plugge said the team’s comeback from the 2016 experience will only help them move past the disappointment of the 2020 Tour de France.
“We survived a couple of years as a team, and we grew every year a step higher, so we will continue to do that,” he said. “We also had it in 2016 with Kruijswijk in the Giro, and it was also devastating. Now, as a team, we are fuller and more stable and we have a better foundation to grow further.”