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The rest day mind games were in full swing at the Tour de France with teams and riders not only taking stock after nine stages but also using the opportunity to put their rivals under scrutiny.
While yellow jersey Tadej Pogačar was doing his best to dismantle the talk of pressure that comes from leading the race, and the fact that his advantage remains just under a minute, the general manager of his main rival was busy questioning the strength of the Slovenian’s team.
Pogačar currently leads last year’s runner-up Jonas Vingegaard by 39 seconds in the overall standings are nine stages of racing.
“Pogačar’s team is vulnerable,” Jumbo-Visma’s Richard Plugge told Wielerflits.
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The Dutch general manager believed that the fact that Pogačar was fighting for every second was proof that the two-time defending champion was concerned about a potential ambush from his rivals and the depth within his own team.
UAE Team Emirates has looked impressive at several points in the race, and while they have lost a rider to COVID-19 the team has consistently been there for Pogačar in crunch moments with Brandon McNulty, George Bennett, and Rafal Majka demonstrating their personal form in the early mountain stages.
The team has certainly lacked a level of cohesion and they did go missing on the cobbles earlier on in the race but Plugge sensed a weakness in their ranks that could potentially be exploited.
“He himself is super strong. Indeed, the fact that he is fighting for every second indicates that he realizes that he may need that lead someday,” Plugge said.
“We are still there as a collective. Ineos Grenadiers still have their riders. While you can’t write Aleksandr Vlasov off yet either. UAE Team Emirates must take into account unexpected and expected attack attempts from all quarters. Pogačar is under complete pressure in that regard.”
Plugge has a point in the sense that at this point last year Pogačar was over five minutes clear after the first rest day and he has seen Vingegaard make another significant step in terms of his maturity over the last 12 months.
“Tests indeed show that he has physically taken another step. Most importantly, though, he’s gotten a lot more mature. He has much more confidence thanks to his second place in the previous Tour and his short classifications in the Tirreno and Dauphiné. The main advantage is that he now knows very well what he wants and can do,” he said.
“In addition, the team is in good shape. You saw in the ride to Châtel that Tiesj Benoot, Steven Kruijswijk, and Sepp Kuss are also able to stay with the leaders for a long time in the mountain stages. For the really tough mountain stages we have a strong collective. The fact that Vingegaard is still less than a minute behind offers perspective.”