The GC battle went on simmer on stage 16 of the Tour de France on Tuesday as a big breakaway rolled clear to battle for victory atop Villard-de-Lans.
Ineos placed three riders into the break now that they’re not tied to looking after Egan Bernal and grabbed a second-place for Richard Carapaz. But what would actually salvage this year’s Tour for the team of the defending champion?
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There was a minor scuffle in the GC group, with Tadej Pogačar and Miguel Ángel López putting in small, late attacks in the stage, though no time gaps came of them. What was Pogačar’s plan here?
And what are we expecting to see on the highly-anticipated high altitude summit finish on the Col de la Loze?
Ineos clearly wants to take a stage, and was close to taking one with Carapaz today. What would ‘salvage’ this year’s Tour for them? Or can it not be saved?
Fred Dreier (@freddreier): A stage win by Richard Carapaz would definitely raise Ineos Grenadiers’ spirits, but unfortunately this year’s Tour de France simply cannot be salvaged. That’s the unfortunate reality when you’re a dominant team or rider in any sport: You will always be judged by your dominance. It’s the same reason why the Tom Brady-era New England Patriots were criticized after they went undefeated and then lost in the Super Bowl. Nothing short of greatness will suffice for the greatest team, and nothing short of the yellow jersey is good enough for Ineos Grenadiers.
Ben Delaney: For B&B Hotels or Total Direct Energie, winning a stage would be huge and would count as a successful Tour. For Ineos, winning a stage doesn’t even count as a consolation prize. Obviously, winning a Tour stage is extremely hard and prestigious. So no disrespect to those who have done so; such an accomplishment is one for the history books. But Ineos came is as the dominant favorite to win the whole shebang… so, no. Their Tour is over.
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): There’s definitely nothing they can do to replace the feat of defending Bernal’s title. However, a stage win for Carapaz or Sivakov would provide a fragment of consolation. Those two are the team’s main GC hopes as it enters its next chapter, and a Tour stage victory for them would boost their confidence and team morale.
Give us your juiciest, hottest take or prediction for how it will play out on the Loze tomorrow
Fred Dreier (@freddreier): My hottest take is that Primož Roglič cracks and Tadej Pogačar takes yellow. It’s unlikely but not impossible.
Ben Delaney: You want my juiciest take or my actual prediction? Juiciest would be that all hell breaks loose not on the Col de la Loze but on the HC Col de la Madeleine before it: Jumbo is scattered to the wind. Pogačar, Quintana, Carapaz, and Lopez get 5 minutes over the top of the Madeleine. And then it’s every man for himself up to the finish. My prediction? Jumbo will control what is left of the yellow-jersey group all the way until the last kilometer, at which point Pogačar, López, and Yates will attack with everything they have, but will be brought back by Kuss and Roglič. Maybe Pogačar gains a handful of seconds right at the line, but no more.
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): I imagine it’s a bit of both. For Pogačar to bridge those 40 seconds he needs to pull back on Roglič, he needs to take every opportunity he can get, even if it’s just one or two seconds here and there. He likely will be frustrated that he didn’t manage to get something out of those speculative digs. But I also think he also wanted to show Jumbo-Visma that he has both the cojones and the legs to give them some serious problems on the Loze on Wednesday and the mountain stage after that.
What was Pogacar up to at the end? Was he genuinely trying to take seconds, or just throwing down a warning?
Fred Dreier (@freddreier): It’s a reaction from any big GC rider that if one of your rivals attack, you follow. Pogačar is a racer, so if he sees someone racing, he’s going to race.
Ben Delaney: Any answer here is total speculation (as is the rest of this!). I believe he was trying to get a few seconds. I would assume he knew his chances of wriggling free of Roglič were slim to none, but you don’t know until you try. And… and… he did in fact get a bit of daylight between himself and his countrymen the last time he tried near the finish on stage 15. What does he have to lose? He races smart but aggressively. He’s fun to watch.
Jim Cotton (@jim_c_1985): I wish I knew, if I did I’d be straight to the bookmakers placing my bets! What I’d love to see is Jumbo-Visma falling apart on the Madeleine and lower slopes of the Col de la Loze to leave a straight-up, old-school, mano-a-mano battle between the top seven on GC, who are only separated by 2:16.