The Great Tour de France Ambush of 2022 is the hot topic at the moment, such is the appetite for someone to take the race to the seemingly dominant two-time defending champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
Sunday’s stage 9 was never going to be the day for such a GC ambush, Ineos Grenadiers’ manager Rod Ellingworth said after the stage, a thought echoed by his rider Geraint Thomas.
“[I didn’t] think [UAE Team Emirates would] try and ride for the stage but with guys like Rigo [Uran] and that up there [in the break] we knew they’d have to ride hard,” the Welshman said while warming down after stage 9. “Even if they’d give the jersey away they don’t want to give it away by much so we knew they’d be working hard all day as they did.”
Once again Pogačar showed his strength at the finish, sprinting away from the other GC riders with Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) to take a handful more seconds. But Thomas seems buoyed by the fact UAE Team Emirates aren’t as strong as they could have been, now that they’re without Matteo Trentin and Vegard Stake Laengen, their TGV drivers for the flat sections of the race.
“They are not as strong as what they could be,” Thomas explained. “They’ve got a lot of good riders; in the winter they’ve signed so and so and this guy and that guy, but they don’t all seem to be firing. But when you’ve got the yellow jersey in your team and someone like Pogačar, you’re going to up your game and they were well in control today.”
One of those guys signed over the winter was George Bennett, formerly of Jumbo-Visma, who is looking like he will play a key part this Tour in trying to win a third yellow jersey for his new employers.
Talk since Pogačar took yellow has been mostly of a potential ambush on his race lead. When both Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers put men up the road on stage 9, it looked like an assault could, unexpectedly, have come earlier. Bennett believes it was an option if things had played out differently.
“I think that was one of their options but I think Wout [van Aert] was there to win the stage,” Bennett told CyclingTips. “We’ve seen him going up the road a few times. I didn’t see it as a massive ambush day. If the break went and took the jersey it wasn’t a problem for us. We just rode our pace and the break obviously played around a little bit and fell to bits. I just put a bit of pace on the last climb to stop people attacking more than anything.”
The question of how to unseat Pogačar isn’t a new one but whether any rival has found the right answer yet is currently unknown.
“[On] the big mountain-top days here, the big climbs, it’s quite clear that Pogačar knows what he’s doing,” Ellingworth told CyclingTips, happy to confirm the obvious. “You’re always looking for an opportunity but again UAE were looking pretty strong really.”
Will it be possible to steal back yellow?
“Who knows; I don’t know to be honest, it’s hard,” Ellingworth admitted, before adding: “We’ve got our plans.”
Thomas seems calm and optimism, hoping that relative team strength can play more of a role this Tour. He doesn’t think UAE taking up the pace on stage 9 had anything at all to do with Pogačar’s seemingly insatiable appetite for victory, but thinks that pacing could eventually take its toll.
“If they ride full gas for stages that can hurt the whole team later on in the race,” Thomas said. “But when you’ve got a guy like [Pogačar] that’s already a good starting point.”
Maybe Ineos Grenadiers could team up with Jumbo-Visma; with Jonas Vingegaard and Primož Roglič? Maybe that could prove a worthwhile tactic?
“If there’s a couple of them and a couple of them up the road…” Thomas said. “But at the same time I’m not going to be on the phone to Roglič and asking him what he’s doing.”
First of all, that would obviously be against the rules. Secondly, I would love to be listening into that phone call.