There were ten to fifteen minutes of chaos on Wednesday's Tour de France stage, the kind of chaos that only action on the cobbles can provide. If it was hard for viewers to work out what was going on, imagine the difficulty for those actually riding stage five.
The panic that set in the Jumbo-Visma team when Jonas Vingegaard had a mechanical issue with his bike is a perfect example of this. It might have looked comical to the onlooker, but the terror that seemed to set in for the Dutch team's riders was palpable.
All it was was a stuck chain, something that could have been fixed in seconds, but in the moment, with Vingegaard's whole race plan seemingly disappearing, the peloton riding up the road, within sight, chaos reigned.
First, the Dane swapped bikes with Nathan van Hooydonck, a man with a completely different bike size to him. Then, clear that that wasn't working, he was forced to change his bike again, creating a comical scene where four Jumbo-Visma riders were spread across the road, at a standstill, working out what to do.
This is what the pavé does to clear-headed riders, teams with plans for this kind of situation. Sepp Kuss had said before the stage that it was his role to swap bikes with his leader in a situation like this, but he was not there: he apologised to Vingegaard following the race. This might have been the Tour, not Roubaix, but it imbued a similar sense of panic to that seen in the Classic.
"I bumped into another guy and something happened with my chain. It was stuck. Looking back maybe I should have just stopped and taken it out, but it’s bike racing and I was stressed. I managed to only lost 15 seconds so I think I have to be happy at that considering how it looked at one point," Vingegaard said post-stage.
"Of course, I was stressed and I was nervous, but I wouldn’t say everything was going up in smoke because there was still a long way to the finish. I was also thinking there was maybe a chance I could come back."
Once Vingegaard was dropped, and after Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) had attacked off the front of the race on stage five, it looked like the whole Tour might be done and dusted, over for Jumbo-Visma's GC chances, anyway.
However, thanks to some inspired teamwork, including from yellow jersey Wout van Aert pulling on the front for kilometre after kilometre, the gap at the end was just 13 seconds.
Thanks to that effort, not only was the time lost reduced, but Van Aert kept the race lead for another day, 13 seconds ahead of Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), who was in the day's break.
"I didn’t know I was saving my yellow jersey," the Belgian explained afterwards. "In the middle of the stage I thought for sure I would lose it in the end, because I was not in a position in the bunch to ride.
"For me it was an easy decision to fully commit to the teamwork, and we needed all of us to minimise the damage. At the end of the race we had the distance with the group of Pogačar, but we didn’t have a clear overview of the race situation. I chased with Jonas to minimise the damage."
After seeing the yellow jersey solo to victory on Tuesday, Wednesday saw another odd sight, as Van Aert put his own race lead on the line for his team. It certainly answered the question about his priorities. He also crashed early on, an incident that left him "overwhelmed".
"I think I’m feeling ok physically, but mentally after my crash it was difficult to fight for the position and throw myself back into the chase," he explained. "It was more of a struggle. When we had even more bad luck with the team we had to chase hard."
The 27-year old also came close to more misfortune, as in the panicked chase he came inches away from riding into the back of a Team DSM car at high speed. That panic of the cobbles, yet again.
"It was a stressful bunch, everyone was nervous, everyone took a lot of chances, and yeah it was just stressful and things like this happened," Vingegaard said.
The Vingegaard chaos was not the only bad news for Jumbo-Visma on Wednesday. Primož Roglič, the team's co-leader, came down in a crash ahead of the cobbles between Erre and Wandignies-Hamage with 30km remaining. It seemed to be caused by a loose road marker, and brought down a few riders.
The impact was such that Roglič's shoulder was dislocated, a situation that he remedied himself, by popping it back in. Unfortunately for him, however, the race had already disappeared up the road, and he lost more than two minutes to Pogačar.
"Luckily, I’m still here," he said. "I didn’t see really good, but I think a motor touched the protection and it slid into the middle of the road.
"I couldn’t put it immediately back in on the road so I needed to sit on the chair of spectator and put it back in."
While he chased back with Van Hooydonck and Tiesj Benoot, the other favourites were motoring away.
“It was not our plan to have so many crashes and problems today," Grischa Niermann, the Jumbo-Visma directeur sportif said. "That is life, we had a crash with Wout in the beginning. Then with Jonas we had a bike change at a really bad moment and then a few minutes later, Primoz crashed. That was too much bad luck.
“You can do a lot of recons, I think I saw this stage four times, but you need some luck and we didn’t have it today – but we’re still there, still standing and still fighting.”
For Vingegaard, there was still an element of "fun", despite the chaos, and the "s**t outcome" as he put it. His teammate Van Aert later similarly described it as a "s**t day".
"The outcome I hate, but I think it was quite fun," Vingegaard said. "It was a shit outcome, it's a pity we lose time, Primož crashed, I had a mechanical, that's how it is in cycling. We cannot do anything about it, that's how it is sometimes.
"It's not good to lose time, but I'm confident in my shape and I'm confident we can do something good when we get to the mountains."
As for Van Aert, he seemed downbeat in his press conference, as you would expect he would, despite hanging onto the race lead. Jumbo-Visma are not at the Tour to get the Belgian in yellow, despite his starring appearances across the first few days.
"We had big plans today, and this was not what we came for," he explained. "We were strong as a group but we had to fight in the chase and not put pressure on others.
"For my own performance, I am disappointed to not do more than the chase at the end. It’s a s** day. Jonas had a mechanical, we had some struggles in the comms for the bike change. There was Primoz in the crash at the roundabout, but we didn’t see it. So much happened in 10-15 minutes that it was difficult to see the overview."
"The group of Primož was far back, but on the other hand at this point of the race a minute feels like a lot, but when you hit the mountains everything can change again," he continued. "The first thing we can do is work out whether Primoz is ok. Luckily Jonas lost not too much time, and we keep fighting like we did today."
Jumbo-Visma just about survived their day of chaos on the cobbles with Vingegaard's position still intact. However, Wednesday was a reminder that for all the careful planning and thinking one can do, a ten minute period of panic can change everything.
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Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.
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