Monday, August 8, 2022

Forget Vingegaard and Pogacar, Geraint Thomas could be the unlikely Tour de France winner

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The Welshman saved energy while the leaders dueled in the mountains and he now has the stronger team to cause an upset last week, writes Felix Lowe

After a vibrant performance on the first of two summit finishes in the Alps last week, Denmark’s Vingegaard, 25, snatched the yellow jersey from two-time champion Pogacar’s shoulders.

Britain’s Geraint Thomas is hoping a full-fledged Ineos Grenadiers team will give him the edge in what many people believe has become a two-horse race at the Tour de France between Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar.

Vingegaard heads into the closing stages of the Tour with a sizable 2min 22s advantage over his Slovenian rival, while 2018 champion Thomas sits a further 21sec in third place.

But the race was turned on its head on Sunday’s eventful stage 15 to Carcassonne in south-west France when Vingegaard lost two key support riders in Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk. Roglic, the former Slovenian ski jumper who started as a co-leader alongside Vingegaard at Jumbo-Visma, retired with injuries in a bad crash in the opening week, while veteran Kruijswijk, the reliable Dutch climber, fell in the muggy stadium with a suspected broken collarbone.

Vingegaard and his Belgian team-mate Tiesj Benoot both scored just minutes after Kruijswijk’s withdrawal as the pendulum of this fascinating Tour seemed to swing back towards Pogacar in the Pyrenees three key stages ahead. With Pogacar’s UAE team Emirates also losing two drivers after positive Covid tests for Norway’s Vegard Stake Laengen and New Zealand’s George Bennett, the responsibility rests with the Ineos Grenadiers to use their power of numbers to secure Thomas’ unlikely bid for a second tour -Resurrect Triumph.

While Vingegaard and Pogacar have torn stripes at each other over the past two weeks and clinched three stage wins together, Thomas, 36, has been riding more conservatively and playing to his strengths. That mix of caution and opportunism has rewarded the Welshman with a podium finish in Paris – although he may well have higher ambitions now.

A day in the foothills of the Pyrenees on Tuesday concludes with a fast descent to Foix followed by back-to-back mountain finishes at Peyragudes and Hautacam. With Adam Yates currently fifth in the standings and Tom Pidcock in ninth after his amazing win at Alpe d’Huez last Thursday, the Ineos Grenadiers have a British trio capable of a race to the finish Disrupting yellow, which most believe involves only Vingegaard and the 23-year-old Pogacar, the white jersey.

By using his ‘pull’ to set a vigorous pace on the early climbs, Ineos could sacrifice Yates or Pidcock’s chances by sending them onto the road to pose serious questions to the weary Jumbo Visma and UAE squads to deliver. It would be a risky strategy and certainly a long shot given that Vingegaard – recently dubbed ‘the best climber in the world’ by Pogacar – has not wasted any time in the mountains.

But Thomas used Pogacar’s uncharacteristic wobble on the Col du Granon in stage 11 to give the defending champion over a minute. He hopes that when Vingegaard is put under similar pressure in yellow he will struggle as well.

Whatever happens in the Pyrenees, one significant test remains on the penultimate day of the race: a 40km time trial to Rocamadour, at which Pogacar is said to excel – as he did two years ago when he gave his compatriot Roglic one seemingly safe tour denied titles in the eleventh hour. For Thomas to do the impossible, he must keep enough in the tank for an individual Race of Truth on Friday, which will decide the outcome of the 109th edition of the Tour.

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