Opinion: Ineos Grenadiers emerge unscathed from Jumbo-Visma’s day of hell

Last year Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic both saw their yellow jersey bids go up in smoke when crashing badly in Stage 3 on the same day that Jack Haig was forced out of the Tour.

Fast forward 12 months and two stages and the Australian Haig was once again a DNF on a day both Thomas and Roglic hit the deck. This time it was the same incident that brought all three crashing to earth – a freak occurrence involving a roadside hay bale dislodged by the TV motorbike and the devastation in its wake.

If Swiss powerhouse Stefan Kung (Groupama-FDJ) was able to take evasive action, Australia’s Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) stood no chance. And when Ewan ploughed into the bale, the butterfly affect saw Roglic, Thomas and Haig all follow suit.

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It was a freak event of the kind that saw both Thomas and Mikel Landa’s Giro d’Italia bids come crashing down thanks to a badly parked race motorcycle at the foot of the climb of Blockhaus in 2017, or indeed Thomas’s chances again of the pink jersey in 2020 after hitting a stray bidon bouncing across the road.

‘Bang! Not what we want’ – Ewan down after bale crash, as Roglic caught up in trouble

Such unforeseeable incidents often play a pivotal role in the outcome of races. For Bahrain Victorious’s Haig, it’s now two Tours on the bounce that his race has ended before it’s even got started. For Roglic, the setback this year may not be as severe as that when he lost even more time than the skin covering his backside following his run-in with Sonny Colbrelli in 2021. But a two-minute gift to compatriot Tadej Pogacar before the race even rises above 200m has as good as ended his hopes of the yellow jersey for the third year running.

Jumbo-Visma’s dual leadership structure is such that now Roglic is 2’36” behind teammate Wout van Aert in the overall standings, protocol dictates that he hands the baton over to Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard, who battled back from his untimely mechanical to concede only 13 seconds to the only man who beat him at last year’s Tour.

The only way Jumbo-Visma were ever going to beat UAE Team Emirates and that man Pogacar this July was by using the power and panache of their co-leaders Roglic and Vingegaard to wear down their rival. It would now make no sense for Roglic to target yellow when last year’s runner-up finds himself in a far better position to stop Pogacar from securing his hat-trick.

So the question now is can Vingegaard beat the man who bettered him by over five minutes during his debut last year? Well, the 25-year-old has done his chances no damage today – even if his game of musical bikes alongside three teammates was something out of a Benny Hill sketch.

Besides Wout van Aert saving his yellow jersey by the skin of his teeth, Vingegaard limiting his losses to Pogacar was the only silver lining on a dark day for Jumbo-Visma – a dark day from which their other rivals at Ineos Grenadiers managed to emerge largely unscathed.

If Thomas went down in the same hay bale catastrophe as Roglic, the 2018 Tour champion did not need to pop a dislocated shoulder back in place before going on his way. Linking up with teammate Tom Pidcock, the Welshman was able to rejoin the main chase group where he finished alongside Pidcock and fellow teammates Adam Yates and Dani Martinez, as well as Vingegaard and Van Aert.

It could have been so much better for Ineos, whose Paris-Roubaix champion Dylan van Baarle was leading the main pack with the white jersey of Pogacar on his back wheel as they entered the final 40km of the 157km stage from Lille. A puncture for the Dutchman ended his chances but Ineos’s leaders were able to work well together in the run into Arenberg.

British trio Yates, Pidcock and Thomas are now all nestled together (at 48, 49 and 50 seconds respectively) in eighth, ninth and tenth place in the general classification, with Colombia’s Dani Martinez up five places to 17th at 1’09”. When the dust settles – both literally and metaphorically – they’ll settle for that.

The notion that Thomas could draw level with Pogacar’s two Tour wins in Paris later this July seems far-fetched when considering the effortlessness with which the Slovenian – on his first professional outing on the cobbles of northern France – rode all 11 sectors on Wednesday. But it has been estimated that Thomas could well have ridden the opening time trial 40 seconds quicker had he not forgotten to remove his gilet – something that would have put him in yellow on the opening day in Copenhagen and changed the complexion of this opening week entirely.

No stranger to calamity and crashes, Thomas bucked the trend in Stage 5. Yes, he came down. But he brushed this off and fought back admirably. The 36-year-old is in the form of his life and he clearly has a strong support cast alongside him as he has one last bid at winning the race in which he triumphed four years ago – when cycling was an entirely different world.

If Jumbo-Visma had a day to forget, Ineos Grenadiers could well be the big winners on Wednesday. And with Thomas fighting fit, they have everything to fight for.

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