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Tour de France

Tour de France daily digest: Supremacy is fragile at the Tour de France

Just 10 months ago Jumbo-Visma bossed around the Tour de France peloton. Now, the Dutch squad appears to be just another team in the race.

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What a difference 10 months make at the Tour de France.

Has it only been 10 months since Jumbo-Visma put the Tour de France peloton in a vice-like headlock and delivered a painful and sweaty noogie? Yes, it has.

Memories are short in pro cycling, but let’s not forget that back in September 2020, the Dutch team ascended to the position of Tour de France bully and the rightful heir to Team Sky’s Fortress Froome. Jumbo-Visma won three stages. It crushed Egan Bernal so badly that the reigning Tour champ quit. It muscled the peloton around on flat stages, hills, and in the mountains.

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No, Jumbo-Visma did not win last year’s Tour de France, but the squad did showcase its collective might, and it ascended the throne as the strongest, brawniest team in WorldTour cycling.

Jumbo-Visma at the Tour de France
Team Jumbo-Visma is struggling to keep its riders in contention at the Tour de France this year. Photo: Thomas SAMSON / AFP) (Photo by THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images

And yet, today, less than one year later, Jumbo-Visma came apart at the seams, blown to the side of the road like dandelion seeds. It’s GC hope Primož Roglič succumbed to the painful injuries plaguing his back and ribs. Its multi-talented Belgian Wout van Aert chased in vain for the stage win, and to hold onto his second place on GC that everybody knows will evaporate on Saturday.

And in the group of GC favorites, Jumbo-Visma’s two other riders became passengers.

Hey, I’m not going to criticize Jumbo-Visma’s tactical decisions, as I’m a desk jockey and they are the paid professionals. Why did Wout van Aert ride for GC instead of dropping back to help his teammates — only Wout van Aert knows.

But I am going to point out that the strongest team of the 2020 Tour de France — the team that suplexed the race for 19 of 21 stages  — looked like just another squad today, chasing wheels, holding on, and praying for the finish line to come. And now, the squad’s best hope at this year’s race is, maybe, a stage win, or a top-5 placing for Jonas Vingegaard or Steven Kruijswijk.

We chronicled Jumbo-Visma’s slow and methodic rise to greatness over these past few seasons. Jumbo-Visma’s disaster today is a showcase for how tenuous and fragile a thing supremacy can be in this cruel and unpredictable sport. What three factors reduced the world’s top cycling team to pack fill? Appendicitis for Wout van Aert back in the spring. An errant elbow and some loose gravel for Roglič on stage 3. A careless fan who wanted to get on TV to say ‘hi’ to grandma and grandpa on stage 1.

Yeah, it doesn’t take much to topple greatness in pro cycling.

In stick-and-ball sports we see dominant squads tumble every few years. Oftentimes, we can trace the fall of dominance in the NBA, NFL, or Champion’s League soccer back to well-trodden tropes of human nature, such as jealousy, ego, greed, or complacency. Last year’s excellent documentary The Last Dance showed how Michael Jordan’s Bulls came to a premature end in part because of the ego of its general manager, Jerry Krause. Kevin Durant’s jealousy of Steph Curry doomed the Golden State Warriors. The New England Patriots succumbed to political infighting between quarterback and coach, as well as the march of time.

Team Jumbo-Visma racing
In 2020 Jumbo-Visma dominated almost every race it started. Photo: Tim De Waele / Getty Images

These reasons feel like tectonic forces when compared to what has doomed Jumbo-Visma over the past seven days. Yep — loose gravel, appendicitis, and a cardboard sign. That’s all that’s required in cycling to take down the baddest team of the last year.

What should we make of this? Well, Jumbo-Visma’s fall is hardly permanent, so we should always remember that failure and success in pro cycling are separated by tiny margins that can be impacted by a multitude of factors. Jumbo’s setbacks today could easily be undone by success next year.

For me, Jumbo-Visma’s setbacks simply make me appreciate cycling’s dominant teams and riders that much more. Love ’em or hate ’em, Team Sky and Chris Froome seem a lot more impressive after what we saw today, right? Dominance in our sport is like a Faberge egg in a mosh pit. One flick of the elbow or turn of the handlebar can bring the whole thing down.

OK, let’s see what went on in cycling social media today:

Stage 7 in social media

There were definitely some good ones out there today, and many of the best Twitter comments focused on the stage winner, Matej Mahorič. As you may know, Mohorič is often credited as being the Patient Zero of the ‘super-tuck’ epidemic that was recently ended by the UCI’s rule. So, when Mohorič hit the final descent of the stage nursing a lead, more than one commenter worried that he might revert back to his old tricks.

It sure looked like the happiest guy for Mohorič was his countryman and teammate Tadej Pogačar, who photobombed Mohorič’s winner’s interview.

Not everybody was stoked at the finish, and it sure seemed like Movistar and Ineos Grenadiers had some beef that required cooking. Oh, to be a bug on the stem for this conversation between Enric Mas, Alejandro Valverde, and Michal Kwiatkowski.

Once again, we saw Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert locked in combat, seemingly wanting to battle each other to the line. Or, maybe they were just having fun.

More than a few people saw their VeloGames teams bite the dust today — myself included. I had four guys in the breakaway today, and all of them got dropped on the final climb! No points for my team.

Of course, the crash lady story continues to circulate, and this commenter is predicting big things for our sport’s worst moment in recent memory. My write-in caption for the sign would be ‘Remember kids, only YOU can prevent race-altering crashes at the Tour de France.’

Oh hey, rapper 50 Cent weighed in on FanGate as well. I tell you, one of these days the Tour de France will be mainstream!