Outside the Jumbo-Visma bus on Carcassonne’s Boulevard Barbès, directeur sportif Frans Maassen thought it best to add a disclaimer to the information he had just provided reporters. “I’m not really sure about everything, we’ll have to see later,” Maassen said apologetically. It was that kind of a day, one crisis after another.
To lose one of Jonas Vingegaard’s supporting cast before stage 15 of the Tour de France began was a misfortune. To lose another to a crash with 65km remaining was a problem. When Vingegaard himself fell shortly afterwards, Jumbo-Visma risked a full-blown catastrophe.
Vingegaard dissipated the immediate tension by remounting quickly and rejoining the peloton. He reached Carcassonne still in the yellow jersey and with his lead of 2:22 over Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) still intact, but the complexion of his team’s race has changed considerably as the Tour breaks for its final rest day.
“It was a tough day for us, not the best day for us,” Maassen said. “But thankfully Jonas was fighting in the final and he looked OK.”
On Sunday morning, before the stage began in Rodez, Jumbo-Visma announced that Primoz Roglič had withdrawn from the Tour, finally yielding to the injuries he had sustained in his crash on the road to Arenberg in the opening week. That, at least, was a loss foreseen. In the days since Roglič’s striking cameo on Vingegaard’s behalf on the Col du Galibier, his contributions to the cause had become more sporadic and less sustained.
“It was not nice to see a big champion like that suffering every day and not riding on his level,” Maassen had said at the start in Rodez, adding that the decision had been a joint one between rider and team. “We made it together.”
It seems likely that Roglič will now turn his attention towards winning a fourth successive Vuelta a España – “I think he’ll go to the Vuelta, but that’s not what we’re thinking of now” – but Maassen downplayed the impact Roglič’s absence would have have on Jumbo-Visma’s strategy in the final week.
Roglič had begun the Tour as Jumbo-Visma’s co-leader and his importance in that role was clear when Pogačar felt compelled to hunt down his accelerations on the Col du Galibier on stage 11. That same afternoon, however, Roglič slid definitively out of the general classification picture, and his strategic value diminished accordingly. At this point in the Tour, Jumbo-Visma needed workhorses rather than decoys. The decision was made to withhold Roglič.
“We only have one leader now in the last week, because we have to go full for Jonas, and that was also part of why this decision was made,” Maassen said. “It’s less important.”
The decision to bring an end to Roglič’s Tour began to feel rather more premature later on Sunday afternoon, as the peloton hurtled towards Revel with temperatures touching 40°C. A sudden slowing in the peloton saw Steven Kruijswijk hit the ground with 65km remaining. As he sat in the middle of the road shaking his head, he seemed to know instinctively that his Tour was over. A quick assessment from the race doctor confirmed as much. “He has a dislocated shoulder, so he doesn’t feel OK, and he’s gone to the hospital,” Maassen said after the finish. “That’s not a good sign.”
Jumbo-Visma’s numerical superiority over Pogačar’s depleted UAE Team Emirates guard was wiped out in an afternoon, and the team risked an even heavier setback just 6km later when Tiesj Benoot crashed and brought his leader Vingegaard down with him. The Dane was quickly back on his feet and soon aboard a replacement bike, but it was, his teammate Christophe Laporte conceded, a significant scare.
“In the space of five or ten minutes, it was a very shit moment for us,” Laporte told reporters when he reached the Jumbo-Visma bus after the finish. “Steven was out of the race, then Jonas and Tiesj crashed too… That crash was just before the last climb of the day, there was a roundabout, and it was a little bit stressed. I didn’t see it, but can I can say is that sometimes that can happen.”
Laporte would ordinarily have been charged with piloting Wout van Aert through the fraught finale in Carcassonne, but the green jersey was instead left to his own devices in the eventual bunch sprint, where he was beaten into second place by compatriot Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck ).
Van Aert has gently insisted throughout this Tour that Jumbo-Visma had two objectives, namely bringing both yellow and green jerseys to Paris. The swift redistribution of resources on Sunday afternoon confirmed – as if there could be any doubt – that one objective is valued rather more highly than the other.
“We decided that Laporte would stay with Jonas until 3k to go and Wout would go his own way,” Maassen said. “He did that and, of course, he had no lead-out and no help in the sprint. That’s not a good situation, but the most important thing was that Jonas was safe until the last 3k.”
In another all-action Tour, Van Aert has already helped himself to two stage wins and a stint in the yellow jersey, as well as a commanding lead in the points classification. He has also toggled between outlandish individual feats – for a time on Sunday, he was even part of the early break – and metronomic displays of pacemaking on Vingegaard’s behalf.
Directeur sportif Grischa Niermann suggested that Van Aert would now be called upon to produce another minor miracle next week, covering for the absent Roglič and Kruijswijk in the high mountains.
“With Wout van Aert we have a helper who can ride for three people in the Pyrenees,” Niermann said. “We’re very happy with him in the team. He will also play a major role uphill.”
Jumbo-Visma will be grateful for the small mercy of Monday’s rest day before the Tour heads into the Pyrenees. It remains to be seen how Tiesj Benoot will be affected by his crash on Sunday, but it is clear that an increased amount of heavy lifting will now have to be performed by Sepp Kuss and Van Aert when the road climbs next week.
“I think that with the riders still here, we’re capable of controlling things,” Van Aert said, “but it will be obviously more difficult.”