Pogačar, UAE weakness exposed ahead of mountains

Defending champion Tadej Pogačar saw his UAE Team Emirates squad look very vulnerable in the longest stage of the Tour de France, as he was left relying on other teams in the finale with hard stages in the mountains to come.

The 249 kilometre stage immediately became that much harder for UAE Team Emirates as yellow jersey Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) forced his way free into a large move that also included Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) and winner of all three Grand Tours Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo). 

Without a race leader to chase for it was left to second-placed Pogačar's team to take up the mantle, as other squads simply sat back and watched to see what would happen over the next 200 kilometres. A succession of UAE riders found it impossible to contain the break and it blew out to seven minutes before they received any help, with TotalEnergies coming to the front to set a solid pace for their leader Pierre Latour.

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Rafal Majka was the last man for UAE Team Emirates in support of Pogačar and when he wasn't effective on the key final climb, the defending champion was isolated. Latour tried an attack on the steep slopes of the Signal d'Urchon which was neutralised, but it was the attack of Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) that looked the most dangerous. The 2019 Giro d'Italia winner shot clear and got out to a gap of 30 seconds before Movistar came to the fore to protect the interests of Enric Mas. 

They caught Carapaz right on the line, with most of the favourites safely in the bunch, the notable exception Primož Roglič, who had been dropped on the steep slopes and finished four minutes behind the group of favourites.

In the end, it was a good outcome for Pogačar, Nibali dropped off the best in the breakaway and actually still sits behind the 2020 Tour winner, while the riders who now sit a few minutes up on the Slovenian star are Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), van Aert and race leader van der Poel. Van Aert has shown in the past that he has some significant climbing ability and is able to go deep into key mountain stages, and was even runner-up to Pogačar at Tirreno-Adriatico.



Despite that, it would be the performance of a lifetime for van Aert to match it consistently with his Slovenian counterpart, the same goes doubly for Asgreen and van der Poel, especially after such a hard opening week of action. Pogačar was his normal, assured self after the day's racing, clowning around in the back of countryman Mohoric's post-race interview, and defended his teammates from criticism.

"Today was a super demanding day," Pogačar said. "We tried to close really fast but they were pulling like crazy from the beginning and the group just snapped in half, it was a really unlucky moment.

"But we started to pull and work together and the team did a fantastic job. I know my team and I know they're strong, so we'll go day-by-day and try and get through. I know a lot of other teams suffered today so we're not the only one."



While he kept the party line, other teams aren't fooled and there's been a number of riders and team directors talking about how the way to win the race won't be by waiting until the mountains, but by isolating Pogačar and place his team in situations where they can't help their young star. 

The team isn't weak on paper, maybe they lack the all-round talent of INEOS Grenadiers or Jumbo-Visma, but the likes of Majka, former world champion Rui Costa, Jan Polanc and Davide Formolo are all good in the mountains, moreso than in the flatlands like today. Brandon McNulty and Marc Hirschi are proven climbers as well, but both are nursing significant injuries after bad crashes.

However, after being exposed today, a lot of teams will be thinking long and hard about ways that they can attack and follow the attacking blueprint that saw Pogačar isolated. 

A succession of hard climbs beckons at the end of Stage 8, while Stage 9's long 21-kilometre finishing climb to Tignes may prove hard for Pogačar to manage without the help of teammates.



The Tour de France continues with the first mountain stage of the race with the Col de la Colombiere the final climb of the day before a descent in Grand Bornand. Watch the race from 20:30 AEST on SBS and SBS On Demand, with the racing commencing on the SKODA Tour Tracker from 21:00 AEST. 


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4 min read
Published 3 July 2021 at 6:44am
By Jamie Finch-Penninger