The yellow and black jerseys were swarmed at the head of the peloton all day. Jumbo-Visma’s efforts extinguished any hope of the early break going the distance on stage 14 of the Tour de France and they also seemed to tease a grand offensive from maillot jaune Jonas Vingegaard. Instead, at day’s end, the race remained as deadlocked as ever.
Vingegaard’s sharpness atop the Col de Joux Plane – where two motorbikes had already blocked an acceleration from Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) – saw him beat the Slovenian to the bonus sprint at the summit. Pogačar, however, returned the favour when the pair sprinted for second place behind Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos) in Morzine.
All told, Jumbo-Visma’s stage-long toil saw Vingegaard add just one second to his advantage, extending his slender lead over Pogačar to 10 seconds. The intention, one imagines, was to move the dial a little more than that but Vingegaard’s teammates declared themselves satisfied with their day’s work as they began to arrive one by one at the Jumbo-Visma bus.
Sepp Kuss, as ever, was Vingegaard’s last man, guiding the Dane most of the way up the Col de Joux Plane until Pogačar’s lieutenant Adam Yates splintered the front group with an attack that only the two favourites could follow. The idea behind Jumbo-Visma’s persistent pace-making, it seems, was to try to draw the sting from Pogačar’s acceleration and play to Vingegaard’s powers of endurance.
“We rode the race like we wanted to,” Kuss said as he warmed down outside the bus. “A lot of teams were asking what we were doing, riding with the breakaway there at 20 seconds in front the whole time, but we wanted to ride our rhythm, make it a tough day and then try on the last climb. We have no regrets, we gave it everything. Jonas is really strong, but Pogačar is right there with him. It’s still a huge battle.”
When Pogačar accelerated viciously 3.7km from the summit, it briefly looked as though the Slovenian might divest Vingegaard of yellow, but the Dane never lost him from sight and clawed back onto his wheel inside the final 2km of the ascent. There were shades of Contador and Schleck on the upper reaches of the climb, where the pair slowed and eyed one another ahead of the motorbike-interrupted bonus sprint. Once more, there was precious little to separate them.
“Ideally, you want a beautiful solo victory, but it’s good that he came up to Pogačar and could get the bonus seconds on the top,” Kuss said. “At the finish, you never know who goes ahead and takes the stage win.”
When Wout van Aert sat up early on the Grand Colombier on Friday, it seemed clear that the Belgian would play a significant part in Jumbo-Visma’s plans on stage 14, and so it proved. After leading over the penultimate ascent of the Col de la Ramaz, Van Aert’s day looked to be over at the base of the Joux Plane, but he cruised his way back to the front to put in another, defiant stint on Vingegaard’s behalf.
“I knew that it was Rafal Majka’s plan to drop me and Wilco [Kelderman], but then pace dropped a bit down and I could fight back,” Van Aert said of the base of the Joux Plane. “We made a really hard day for ourselves, but hopefully for the others too. I hoped Jonas could make a bigger difference, but apparently Jonas and Tadej are just quite equal at the moment, so chapeau.”
A mass crash in the opening kilometres had seen the race neutralised and paused for almost half an hour, but Jumbo-Visma quickly took up the reins at the head of the bunch after the re-start, whittling down the bunch over the Col de Cou and Col de Feu, and maintaining their brisk pace on the Ramaz.
“The idea was to make the stage as hard as possible, so we did all the climbs on a pretty high pace, to make the race more suitable for Jonas and less explosive,” Tiesj Benoot explained. “We pulled off the plan to perfection. Jonas didn’t take big gaps, but he took the bonus on top of the Joux Plane and the Tour is still long.”
In a video interview on the first rest day, Vingegaard indicated that Jumbo-Visma had a specific plan to break Pogacar’s resolve at this Tour along similar lines to their remarkable volley of attacks over the Galibier a year ago. The Slovenian and his team dealt ably to their sustained forcing here, but one imagines further questions will be asked on Sunday’s run to Saint Gervais-Mont Blanc and Wednesday’s haul over the Col de la Loze.
“We’re not jumping for joy over one second,” Van Aert admitted, though he grinned when asked how Jumbo-Visma might approach stage 15. “What are we planning tomorrow? You will see then.”