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Tour de France

Tour de France: Are alliances the only way to challenge Tadej Pogacar?

Nothing's decided yet in this Tour, and rivals say they need to be ready to pounce if there’s an opening.

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DOLE, France (VN) — Is Tadej Pogačar so strong that only alliances between rival teams can challenge him in the 2022 Tour de France?

Five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault said that might be the only way for anyone in the peloton to break Pogcaar’s tirghtening grip on the yellow jersey.

“Pogačar has shown them who is boss,” Hinault told Eurosport France. “The others are wondering how they can put him in trouble and when you know what is waiting for them at the end of the Tour, it will be very difficult.”

Hinault suggested that Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma need to coordinate their attacks and focus their collective firepower on Pogačar instead of attacking each other.

“They are going to need to agree on a strategy that if one team attacks, the others must not go after them,” Hinault said. “You must make Tadej go after you and then maybe you take the turn. In that case, you might be in trouble, but if I was in his shoes, I would be very relaxed.”

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Formal alliances between rival teams are almost unheard of, however.

Each team comes to the Tour or any race with its own agendas, ambitions, and goals. 

For a pre-arranged alliance to work, one team or rider would have to agree to sacrifice their personal ambitions in order to let a rival succeed in order to beat another rider.

No professional team or rider would do that, and it would go against the spirit of fair competition.

Yet alliances can form on the road in real-time, with mutual shared interests lining up to deliver a desirable outcome for both parties. That happens in just about every race.

The most obvious scenario is when a pair of riders link up on the road, and a deal is quickly hatched. They work to the line, and one wins the stage, and the other gains time on GC, or perhaps takes over the leader’s jersey.

It’s that kind of on-the-road pact that could turn the tables against Pogačar and perhaps give his rivals a change to try to dethrone him.

Ineos Grenadiers: ‘It’s about looking for opportunities’

Ineos Grenadiers kept its four leaders within the top-10 on Friday. (Photo: Alex Broadway/Getty Images)

Ineos Grenadiers manager Rod Ellingworth said Friday the Pogačar’s rivals will need to be patient. His team sees four riders still in the top-10, Ellingworth said the team needs to try to exploit any opening that might appear, even if it comes at an unexpected moment.

“It’s about looking for an opportunity,” Ellingworth said Friday at the team bus. “There are no surprises. [Pogačar] proved he is the rider he was last year. Everyone has their limit, and we’ve never seen Pogacar on his limit.

“In cycling, you can use other teams to benefit your own tactics. There will be opportunities for sure,” Ellingworth said. “We can use our experience a little bit. It’s a huge challenge.”

With two weeks still left to go, Pogacar agreed the Tour is far from over. The hardest mountain stages still lie ahead of the peloton, including a return to Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.

Back-to-back stage wins and the yellow jersey over arch-rivals Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers sees Pogačar consolidating his lead after a week of racing.

Other teams are still in the mix as well, with Movistar, Groupama-FDJ, Team DSM and Bora-Hansgrohe retaining podium ambitions after a full week of racing.

Even if all of Pogačar’s rivals share a common interest of trying to beat him, inevitably riders and teams start racing for their own ambitions, be it trying to move within podium range or winning a stage at each other’s expense.

Pogačar said he’s not afraid of other riders or teams ganging up on him, and he knows that he can also use that dynamic to his advantage.

“In the the end of the climb, you could see there was a lot of riders,” Pogačar said Friday after winning. “We still have a lot of competition. For me, it’s the same if everyone races against me or not. You have to need to push the best in the pedals and give everything in the stages every day.”

Up the Belles Filles summit on Friday, Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma both stayed close to keep things interesting going into this weekend.

Geraint Thomas optimistically pointed out that Pogačar didn’t take two minutes out of everyone in the first summit.

“It gives us some cards to play, but we need to use them at the right time. It’s all about the legs,” Thomas said of the team’s numerical advantage. “It seems we have them at the moment, and hopefully the opportunity can arise and we can use those numbers. It’s one thing having them and it’s another thing using them.”

Jumbo-Visma, too, was encouraged by the performance by Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič, who was able to limit his losses just two days after dislocating his shoulder in a crash Wednesday during the cobblestone stage.

Vingegaard nearly won, and Roglič is slowly on the mend.

“It was so close so you hope he will win but if you look at both, Jonas and Primož, what fighters they are and that they’re so close. We’re still big in contention so it’s very satisfying,” said team boss Richard Plugge. “The finish is in Paris and not here. We still have a lot of climbs to go and we will stick to our plan.”

Will those plans include ganging up on Pogačar with other teams? The road will show.