What caused the crack?

UAE's Gianetti says it wasn't hunger or heat.

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We knew deep down and despite routine evidence to the contrary that there would come a time at which Tadej Pogačar would crack. It is an unbreakable rule of the Tour de France that even the strongest cannot ignore forever. In the hours after his first visible weakness at a Tour de France, we wondered: Why now? 

A hunger knock, heat, COVID. Perhaps un jour sans, a day without, one of those inexplicable stretches of time where the body refuses to respond. All are possible explanations, with varying degrees of feasibility. 

We have some evidence to work with. Pogačar was his usual exceptional self on the Télégraphe, the Galibier, and through the valley to the base of the Granon. This wasn’t a bad day. It was a bad last 20 minutes. 

This rules out un jour sans, which generally manifests from stage start. It probably rules out heat, as the Télégraphe was far hotter and Pogačar rode well. It doesn’t rule out nutritional errors. 

It was none of that, according to Mauro Gianetti, UAE’s team boss. Speaking with Wielerflits, he pointed straight at his opposition. It wasn’t a Pogačar weakness, he claims. It was Jumbo-Visma’s collective strength. 

“Some stress has crept into the team this week. But above all, this is the result of the demolition work of Jumbo-Visma,” he said. “They have done something extraordinary.”

The onslaught began early on the Col du Télégraphe, leading to a string of attacks that Geraint Thomas described as “like doing 30/30s,” a heinous workout where 30-second full-gas efforts are alternated with too-short 30-second recoveries. Primož Roglič hit out again and again, trying to break the elastic. Pogačar jumped on move after move. 

The attacks continued onto the Galibier, but Pogačar was able to follow them all. He came over the top with only Jonas Vingegaard for company, pulling with a tailwind over the final kilometers. He looked in those moments as strong as he has all race. 

“Tadej is in perfect shape. Otherwise, he would not have been able to parry so many attacks on the Galibier,” Gianetti said. “We are going to touch wood, but there are absolutely no symptoms of COVID either. He wasn’t hungry on the way either. No, this is the credit of Vingegaard and his teammates.”

Cumulative fatigue is the official line, as the difficulty of Wednesday’s stage layered on top of an active first week and a half that saw Pogačar ride with a confidence that he could afford a level of aggression rarely seen from GC riders in the last decade. The grabs for bonus seconds, the attack on the cobbles, the pair of stage wins. These efforts add up. Add in a team weakened by COVID and the extra pressure that puts on a GC leader and the result was Pogačar’s first truly difficult finale.

The cause put forth by Gianetti is a concerning one for Pogačar’s chances. More concerning than a simple error of nutrition or difficulty in the heat. Those are solvable problems. But Jumbo is getting no weaker. If the tactic worked Wednesday, it could work again. The question now is how Pogačar deals with it. 

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