Not far from the start of stage 18 of the Tour de France is the town of Tarbes, not notable for much, apart from being the birthplace of Ferdinand Foch, who served as the final Supreme Allied Commander during the First World War.
The Frenchman, who accepted the German surrender in 1918, would have been proud of the masterplan that Jumbo-Visma enacted on Thursday, which all but ensured that their rider Jonas Vingegaard will triumph over Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) at this year's race. The Dane now has 3-26 over the Slovenian.
Jumbo's attrition rate was also much like that of a First World War army, as one-by-one riders were burned through until Pogačar finally faltered, and Vingegaard could ride away to victory at Hautacam. The coup de grâce was administered with minimal fuss, with Wout van Aert guiding his teammate away from his rival, but it was a Jumbo victory, not just one for Vingegaard.
"The Col du Granon stage and today are two really good examples of how strong this team is," he said in his post-stage press conference. "I think everyone in this team is so incredibly strong and I’m so happy to have such a strong team around me.
"To have Wout van Aert, the best rider in the world, as a helper, the green jersey. They were all incredibly strong today so I have to thank them so many times for today."
First, it was Christophe Laporte riding, then Nathan van Hooydonck over the Col d'Aubisque. Tiesj Benoot dropped back from the break to pace Sepp Kuss back to the lead group, before Kuss did a lot of damage on the final climb. Then, as Kuss faltered, Van Aert was there to deliver the final blow, the turn that broke Pogačar.
"It was a really fast pace, uphill and downhill, and it all exploded on the second last climb," Kuss said. "Luckily, I was able to make it back with the help of Tiesj, who was in the break. On the last climb, I tried to pull as long as possible.
"I knew we had Wout up ahead, knew he could also help Jonas a lot, and that ended up being the case. It was perfect teamwork."
For the team's directeur sportif Grischa Niermann, things went exactly as he wished it.
"We had a tactical plan, and this basically panned out like we wanted it to happen," he explained. "Of course, it's the riders that have to do it, that have to have the legs to do the plan on the year. It sums it up, a great performance of all six. We wanted it exactly to go like that, but you can have a very good plan, but if the riders aren't good enough, then the plan is not working out."
He turned down the opportunity to give Van Aert more credit than the other members of the team, but recognised the vital contribution that he made to the result on Thursday.
"We call Wout the green monster," Niermann said. "He had a bit less of a day yesterday, he was not happy with his own performance, and today we wanted him to be in the break, and I think you saw today that he attacked at kilometre 0, and went solo.
"Sometimes he's a bit overenthusiastic, but eventually he ended up in the break, he was there on the last climb and he made the difference for Jonas to drop Pogačar. He's just a great champion."
In the end, Pogačar simply dropped off the back of the wheel of Vingegaard, there was no need for him to attack. Not that there ever was, as he had a lead of more than two minutes heading into the day. A second stage win is a bonus, a cherry on the top of a very big cake.
"No, I don't think I needed to attack him," Vingegaard said. "I think it was better for me to hold a steady pace which we did and then they said in the radio that they think Tadej was on the limit and he gave absolutely everything we have.
"Then Tadej dropped. I think I would have tried to attack later on because maybe I also had that feeling on the last climb but I didn’t have to attack him."
There were hairy moments, on the ascent of the Col de Spandelles and then even more so on the descent, where Vingegaard briefly had a mechanical issue and Pogačar himself crashed. The former then waited for the latter after the incident, effectively neutralising the descent.
"Yeah I think Tadej went a bit too quick into one corner," Vingegaard said. "He missed it a bit and he was out in the ditch and some gravel and then tried to get back on the road and the bike flipped. That’s unfortunate for Tadej but of course I waited for him."
"Jonas staying on the bike was the most important thing..." Kuss explained. "Of course, you never want to crash, the descents today were a bit tricky.
"I don't think it's a nice way to win [attacking while Pogačar was off his bike]. Of course, crashing, descending is part of bike racing. I think they have a lot of mutual respect for each other, and it's not nice to attack when someone is down."
It might look out of reach for anyone but Vingegaard to pull on the yellow jersey now, but his team insists they're not quite popping the champagne corks yet.
"Of course we're feeling confident with this lead," Niermann said. "But there's a hard stage coming tomorrow. There will be some crosswind, a tricky final, then there's a really hard time trial. A lot of things can happen, but of course we are confident, but we're not going to celebrate now."
As with his first stage victory, on the Col du Granon, Vingegaard was immediately on the phone to his family, the only thing in his life more important than cycling.
"It’s just to be in contact with them," he told the assembled press. "My two girls at home are the people I love the most in this world and when I win I want to share it with my girlfriend and daughter and so of course calling is the first thing."
Jumbo-Visma proved once again that they are the strongest team at this year's race, and therefore can relax tonight knowing that their Foch-like plan has given them well over three minutes of advantage over the final three stages. It helps that Vingegaard is the strongest rider at the race too. A winning combination.
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