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Tadej Pogačar, not Ineos Grenadiers, is ruling this Tour. On Wednesday in the hardest mountain stage of the 2021 Tour, Carapaz was racing for honor, not victory.
“The Tour is like a marathon,” Carapaz told AS at the summit. “You cannot give up until the finish line.”
The Ecuadorian did what he had to do to muscle back into podium range and defend the team’s proud Tour legacy. The British outfit won seven yellow jerseys in eight years, with four different riders, but it’s running straight into the unstoppable force of Pogačar.
Vivir al 100 es lo que hace que cada día disfrute más de lo que hago!! Hoy intentamos llegar en lo más alto, pero como dicen siempre hay desquite. Mañana más 👊🏽 Thanks boys @ineosgrenadiers 🙌🏽 📸 @bettiniphoto pic.twitter.com/C0uQylRTqx
— Richard Carapaz M (@RichardCarapazM) July 14, 2021
On the steepest and most difficult summit finale of the race, the Ineos Grenadiers climber was strong enough to stay with the two best climbers in the 2021 Tour, but couldn’t muster any real direct threat to Pogačar.
When Carapaz finally tried to attack late in the finale, it seemed like a move wrought with frustration and pride. After riding on the wheel the entire final climb, even when Pogačar waved him through to take a turn, Carapaz had to at least try.
Also read: Is Ineos Grenadiers facing a possible flop?
When asked if Pogačar was upset when Carapaz attacked in the final after sitting on the wheel the entire climb, the yellow jersey simply shrugged.
“Why not? I don’t see any problem with people attacking, it’s a bike race,” Pogačar said. “Everyone has a chance to attack, of course, everyone would grab it. Everyone wants to win, and everyone wants to play their own tactic.”
In what seemed like a demonstration of the superiority of his rivals, Pogačar and Danish sensation Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) both came around Carapaz.
Of course, Carapaz wasn’t only racing to attack Pogačar; he was racing for the podium.
And in that sense, it was mission accomplished.
Third place on the stage was good enough for Carapaz to help save Ineos Grenadiers’ honor. The result bumped him ahead of Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) to nudge him onto the “virtual” podium in third at 5:43.
“We cannot give up trying, even though our rival did not cede under our rhythm,” Carapaz said. “Now there is only one more day in the Pyrénées and the time trial, I need to get the maximum out of myself.”
Urán started the day in second place, at 5:18, but could not match the searing pace when Pogačar ramped up the speed on the middle flanks of the hors categorie summit.
The Colombian saw help from teammate Sergio Higuita, and finished 1:49 back in ninth, and slumped to fourth, at 7:17 back.
Though Urán is a better time trialist, the current gap of 1:34 between the South American neighbors should keep Carapaz into third if things remain static.
Of course, Thursday’s summit finale at Luz-Ardiden provides another opportunity for everyone to try to reshuffle the podium deck.
Great ride @RichardCarapazM! 👏
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) July 14, 2021
With Pogačar emerging as the new force in the peloton, Ineos Grenadiers is now among the mere mortals in the peloton.
“It’s proving difficult to manage things against a rival who is so much better than us,” Ineos Grenadiers’ Jonathan Castroviejo told AS. “Honestly, we are not used to it.”
Ineos Grenadiers strode confidently into the 2021 Tour boasting what it called its best team ever. With only one mountain stage and one time trial left, the team is counting on Carapaz to save its pride.
In racing lexicon, it’s called racing for a place of honor.
And third place in the Tour is honorable indeed, but for a team that is “built on purpose,” as its team slogan says, anything less than outright victory is viewed as underperforming, or, at least if you read some headlines in the British media, outright crisis.
Thursday’s summit finale presents a new opportunity to try to rattle now-second-place Vingegaard, and perhaps move up one step higher on the virtual podium.
Racing for honor is something new for Ineos Grenadiers, and it’s finally getting a taste of what it was like for its rivals during the Chris Froome era.