Just when we thought the yellow jersey battle was over, that Jonas Vingegaard’s three-minute lead in the Tour de France yellow jersey was seemingly unassailable over a 40k m time trial, there is still a crumb of hope for the Dane’s challengers.
This slim chance that things could end differently is a word two syllables long. “Crosswinds”.
According to weather reports, the 188.3 km flat stage from Castelnau-Magnoac to Cahors will be plagued with crosswinds along exposed roads as the peloton makes its way north towards Paris.
It seems the teams were already aware of this. When speaking at the top of Peyragudes after stage 17, UAE Team Emirates’ Marc Hirschi was already aware that in two days time crosswinds could keep the race alive beyond the mountains.
“It’s not so bad, he’s second,” Hirschi reflected to CyclingTips about his team leader’s place in the overall, hopeful things might have changed (although the gap has grown wider since he spoke). “Hautacam is a hard day, there is a long TT, there is the flat stage; maybe there’s crosswinds, a lot can happen.”
The next morning others started picking up on the prospect of crosswinds.
“Me and Matej [Mohorič] pointed it out earlier on the bus,” Bahrain-Victorious’ Fred Wright said, “and everyone was like ‘shhhh we’ve got today first!’ Hautacam is going to be really hard wherever you are on the course, if you’re Pogačar or Jakobsen, fair play to him. It’s not easy getting round these things.”
While Hautacam may have been an easier task for Pogačar than Jakobsen, the Slovenian will likely have to take advantage of any crosswind action on his own.
His team is down to four riders, with only Brandon McNulty, Hirschi, and Mikkel Bjerg remaining in service to their team leader. Bjerg is likely the only one who can truly aid in this scenario.
But what about Ineos Grenadiers? The final superteam left standing intact, except for a poorly Adam Yates. Maybe all Pogačar needs to do, like he did with Jumbo-Visma in 2020, is buy a one-way ticket to the finish line on a TGV of a cycling team looking to snatch a result from the jaws of defeat at the last.
“We still have tomorrow,” Geraint Thomas said atop Hautacam despite sitting eight minutes behind Vingegaard in the overall. “Crosswinds all day. Nothing’s straightforward in this race, man.”
Is this all wishful thinking? Maybe. But when Pogačar and Jumbo-Visma are involved, don’t expect the final act to be a dull affair.