With only five UAE-Team Emirates domestiques to protect Tadej Pogačar in the Tour de France after George Bennett’s Covid positive, the question now is whether Jumbo-Visma and Ineos Grenadiers will use their numerical advantage to exploit the situation.
Bennett was sent home from the race on Tuesday morning as he became the second rider from the defending champion’s team in the last week to have to withdraw due to a Covid infection.
Panic was tangible at the start of stage 10 inside and outside the Tour bubble with the fear that multiple cases were imminent, but attention was also centred on how Bennett’s withdrawal will affect the outcome of the race.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s lead DS Rolf Aldag speculated that while a full roster of eight riders will benefit Jumbo-Visma and Ineos and “over the course of the race it will be to the disadvantage of UAE and Tadej”, the Slovenian still has the potential to be able to maintain his lead even despite a reduced team.
“We’re aware that something might happen now because there is a numerical advantage for others, but it still has to be seen how,” the German told Cycling Weekly.
“Breakaways will have a better chance because now they [UAE-Team Emirates] don’t have the luxury to really hold it very close and hold it down.
“But then we seen it last year when everybody said he [Pogačar] didn’t have a team and his team wasn’t strong enough, what did he do? He just rode away 55km from the finish and gained three minutes. With that shape and that capacity, then what do you do?”
While both Jumbo and Ineos will now be looking to turn the race in their favour, Aldag cautioned that they have to be sensible in how they do so and not begin cancelling each other out.
He continued: “The worse case [for Pogačar] is that [Ineos] go attacking with Adam Yates, but then it’s not done, done, done because Tadej is supposedly super, super strong and the fact is he can still fix a lot of things, the race is still long. If he has to he can control it alone. Can he do it for two, three, or four days? Yes.
“If Yates rides away, do you think Jumbo will say, ‘ah, it’s fine. Tadej will lose the Tour’? No, because then what about [Jonas] Vingegaard? He’s also now not going to win [in that situation]. They’re here to win the Tour so they will have to start riding sooner or later.
“What happens if [Primož] Roglič rides away, will Ineos say, ‘OK, Tadej, you have to chase it’? If Roglič goes on the second last climb, you also have the scenario of if Ineos are going to close him or not because they will realise that they also want to win the GC.
“Another worst case scenario [for UAE] would be if a breakaway went with one from Ineos and Roglič. That would be bad for Tadej, but it’s very obvious and UAE and Tadej are not stupid or blind. If they can they will avoid that and then it puts the pressure on others because they also want to be on the podium.
“Once the GC is more established, third looks at second and fourth. If fourth goes you close it; if second goes you try to hang on. That’s going to be the question: if somebody really gambles and plays and says that they will give up their chances. If it’s going to be Ineos against Jumbo, Tadej will profit from it.”
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