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MENDE, France (VN) — Another day, another blockbuster Tour de France stage with Michael Matthews taking the win on stage 14 after a series of near misses in his recent career, and Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard once more proving their credentials as the two best GC riders in the race.
The pair went head-to-head on the final climb of the Coté de la Croix Neuve with Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates squad able to dislodge all of their rivals bar Vingegaard on the viciously steep slopes.
The Ineos pair of Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates would initially be able to match the yellow and white jerseys as they skipped up the climb at speeds that, at one point, looked certain would shatter Marco Pantani’s all-time record for the ascent.
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At the line, Thomas would lose 17 seconds as Pogačar and Vingegaard would finish together, while Yates would lose a further five seconds and remain fifth overall. It was far from a disaster for the Ineos pair but they are clearly a level below the two best GC riders in this race.
“It’s not necessarily my type of climb: steep and punchy, and 10 minutes or less and, bang, it was over. But it was solid,” Thomas said as he warmed down at the finish.
“As I said at the start of the day, a climb like that you can have the same sort of gaps as on Alpe d’Huez sometimes. Days like today are some of the hardest just because your legs are feeling a lot of attacks, and not much control. You’re always on the pedals and I don’t know what our average was but the first hour would have been super high. A climb like this is super-hard: it’s so steep and punchy.”
On the plus side, both Thomas and Yates were able to put a handful of seconds into fourth-placed rider Romain Bardet. The Frenchman paced himself admirably up the climb but his chances of overtaking Thomas and moving onto the podium in Paris in just over a week are growing slimmer with each passing stage.
A sweltering day at #TDF2022 comes to an end with @GeraintThomas86 and @AdamYates7 battling well to retain their GC positions of third and fifth. @tompidcock limited his losses well to sit ninth overall. Great to see @danifmartinez96 in the break today. He took 17th. pic.twitter.com/DCydVkM8bN
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) July 16, 2022
When asked if he still had an eye on the Frenchman, Thomas said: “Yeah, of course, always got that in your mind, and you’re always trying to look ahead, but it’s tough when they’re up there. But obviously, you have another close eye on what the guys behind are doing. But you’re always trying to move forward and not looking behind.”
The stage didn’t have to wait long for fireworks with Pogačar putting in an early attack on the Côte de Saint-Just-Malmont, and then putting in two more digs for further effect. Only Vingegaard and Wout van Aert could respond but Thomas took a more cautious and experienced approach with so much of the stage still to play for.
“I felt OK when he first attacked. The first climb, I saw him go and I was quite a way behind, and I saw Jonas not panicking, but jumping as well, but I thought ‘nah, they’re not gonna keep riding when they’re together’ so I managed to stay in the wheels, follow some guys and work my way up, kind of how I’ve been riding the whole race basically,” Thomas said.
“Pogačar came to me and said Jumbo are struggling, they’re struggling, but it was like, ‘yeah, but, if we all jump and it’s just GC guys, it makes no difference anyway.’ Obviously, they’re having a hard day, but if he wants to jump around and make it hard for them, it’s fine by me. But Jumbo were strong, though. Fair play to them. Van Aert did an incredible job at the start for Jonas.”