The fastest Tour de France ever was intensely competitive but was it as entertaining as the previous edition?
That’s the question I ask myself as I think back on what happened in between the damp Copenhagen starting over three weeks ago and finishing on the Champs Elysees on a beautiful summer evening.
Tactically, UAE Team Emirates where outthought during the crucial stages and physically outgunned in the mountains, allowing Jonas Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma to execute their winning strategy.
At first, it looked like it was going to be a formality for Tadej Pogačar as he picked up bonus seconds here, there and everywhere in the first week of the Tour de France, with only the show put on by Wout Van Aert distracting from the Slovenian.
When Pogačar took over the race lead on stage 6, I wondered when the Jumbo-Visma armada would seriously challenge UAE Team Emirates, who had fewer star riders and just one mission: guide their number one rider to another success.
When the Dutch squad had announced the goal of winning both yellow and green jerseys it looked very ambitious. After the cobbles ruined the hopes of Primož Roglič, the option of GC seemed to be gone.
As we can now know, it was the day to the Col du Granon that exposed the weakness of UAE Team Emirates and where Jumbo-Visma’s detailed planning and team tactics paid off.
Pogačar was left exposed by the attacks from Roglič and Vingegaard on the Col du Galibier and had no proper support from his team. He then made his own mistakes and suddenly, from a position of strength, he was over two minutes behind.
That left facing a huge challenge and hoping for cracks to somehow appear in Jonas Vingegaard’s armour. Ultimately there weren’t any and if anything, the Slovenian never seemed to have recovered properly from the mauling he got on stage 11 to the Col du Granon.
The finishes on L’Alpe d’Huez, Saint-Etienne and Mende gave the impression that UAE Team Emirates might still play the GC game. At Peyragudes Pogačar looked to be ready to pounce again but Jumbo deployed Van Aert on stage 18 to Hautacam and everything was settled. Vingegaard wasn’t going to be beaten and the probing of Pogačar was more about pride than anything else.
The moment Pogačar lost time again on the road to Hautacam was when the preparation for the 2023 Tour de France really began for both Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates.
UAE Team Emirates’ hopes really fell apart when their key domestiques were unable to help Pogačar when he needed it, the Slovenian missing protection, pacing and reassurance. The team was hit by COVID-19, injuries and illness but lacked the adaptability to cover for those eventualities.
Jumbo-Visma on the other hand had Wout Van Aert, who did the work of three support riders and still had the reserves to blow out Pogačar.
He was the icing on the cake that the Dutch team have been baking for several years, a project that may have had Primož Roglič as the cherry but now sees Jonas Vingegaard in his place as the rider able to challenge and defeat Pogačar.
The strengths of Jumbo-Visma haven’t developed by accident, they’ve recruited carefully, nurtured new talent and reinvigorated riders like Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte.
UAE TEam Emirates recognized last year that they were relying too much on the individual brilliance of Tadej Pogačar and signed riders they thought would be able to control things until the Slovenian took over in the final parts of the crucial stages.
For various reasons, that hasn’t happened with the regularity of performances that the Tour de France demands. Now they have to go away and look at the reasons for their mistakes, the weaknesses that were exposed and how to rectify them.
They can be sure that Pogačar’s preparation and commitment to 2023 have already begun but they seem to be missing the influence of Allan Peiper in terms of strategy and planning.
What about Ineos Grenadiers?
It’s quite clear that Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates are the new benchmarks in terms of performance. They have the strongest riders, and in the case of the Dutch team, the best core group.
That leaves Ineos Grenadiers in a tricky situation of having had third places at the last two Tour de France but both with riders who are in their mid-thirties. Their young riders who are coming through don’t appear ready for the Grand Tour battles just yet. Tom Pidcock was of course remarkable but they can’t keep relying on his brilliance for immediate GC results in 2023.
The British-registered squad finds itself chasing instead of leading in terms of their squad composition and how those riders have performed. That’s how sport works at the very top, with excellence built over years, not months. I expect Ineos Grenadiers to accelerate their rebuilding strategy and carry out a proper examination of what they have and haven’t been doing right in recent years.
So was it an entertaining Tour?
Yes, for the performances of the Jumbo-Visma collective and Wout Van Aert’s astonishing regularity. That Jonas Vingegaard resembles a rider for a bygone era – solid, hard, gritty – is a relief for the diehard fan who wants to see the suffering etched on the faces of the riders.
Tadej Pogačar gave the impression he was playing rather than racing but those times have ended and he has found a real rival in Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma.
The 2023 Tour de France game has already begun.