Is this Van Aert’s greatest victory?
Tour de France
The peloton shudders in front of the cobblestones: “We’re scared but we want to go”
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But, deep down, it’s a success that rests on its main strong point, the punch. And his athletic performance of the day seems to me a notch below, for example, what Julian Alaphilippe achieved in Epernay in 2019. Too bad Mathieu van Der Poel was not there to offer him the reply. The presence of its historical rival would have reinforced the value and symbolism of this success.
As far as WVA is concerned, its triumph over two Ventoux last year remains more striking for me. It is a ground on which we did not expect it, or in any case, not so well. And even if the victory was not achieved on the pedal against the best, the ease with which the sprinter Van Aert tamed a symbol like the Giant of Provence remains in my eyes much more staggering than this success built on a hill of 4th category.
The summary of the 4th stage: Van Aert wakes up the Tour and knocks out the competition
Yes, for two reasons. Firstly because it is his clearest, his most convincing and his most crushing victory on the pedal. On this single 900-meter bump, the slap that Wout van Aert gave to the competition, whether punchers of his rank (Hello, Mathieu van der Poel?) or the main candidates for the general classification, has something something new for him on the Tour. It was a real show of strength. No one has come close to him.
Then there is the symbolism of the yellow jersey. Winning a stage is strong. Doing it while wearing the most mythical jersey imaginable is a unique feeling. You have to go back to Freddy Maertens 45 years ago to find traces of a victory for a Belgian yellow jersey on the Tour. “This is unquestionably one of the greatest victories of my career.“, admitted Van Aert, extrapolating well beyond the Tour de France alone. The content, the form, all this places this success in its own dimension.
So, of course, the finish line in Calais does not have the prestige of a sprint on the Champs-Elysées or Mont Ventoux. But a sprint is still a sprint, and on the slopes of “Mont Chauve”, he was not the strongest. He won in the breakaway, which is no less deserving, quite the contrary, but even Eros Poli, after all, won the Ventoux stage. This Tuesday was something else. The expression of a champion in total control of his superiority.
Is the Cap Blanc-Nez battle of arms significant?
Since it is the first of this 109th Tour de France, the temptation is great to draw from it a first hierarchy, a first balance of power between the favorites of the general. But you have to be right about a 4th category climb swallowed up at an average of 32.3 km/h and in 106 seconds by the fastest, Wout van Aert. Let’s still look at the positions at the top of Cap Blanc-Nez. Passed in order and in successive waves:
- Van Aert
- Yates (2nd) and Vingegaard
- Thomas (4th), Roglic and Martinez
- Bardet (7th)
- Pogacar (8th) and Vlasov
- A Bahrain (10th)
- The peloton led by Geniets and Gaudu
First observation: the INEOS and the Jumbo-Visma are overrepresented, Bardet is in the game (which raises a first unknown about his form after his retirement from the Giro) and Pogacar could not switch with Roglic and Vingegaard. Nevertheless, and this is the first limit to any attempt at extrapolation, the Slovenian was poorly placed in comparison to the two Jumbos. Given the violence of the Yellow and Black attack, it pays cash. It is therefore impossible to deduce that Pogacar was less strong than his two rivals.
I note this though: Roglic is supposed to be better than Vingegaard on such an explosive effort. That was not the case. And that makes it 2-0 for the Dane, who had already been (a bit) better than the Slovenian during the time trial in Copenhagen (for two tenths). I even have the feeling that he was able to accompany Van Aert if he had been able to place himself in his wheel, and not in that of Yates, responsible for the break just before the rocker. Vingegaard has therefore scored points in the leadership race at Jumbo. But these will obviously not weigh very heavily when it comes to taking the first real assessment, Saturday at the top of the Planche des Belles Filles.
Van Aert: “We thought we were going to go all out to the top”
Beware of overinterpretation. Everyone has been watching for five days and four stages for this Tour 2022 to finally take off. So, yes, the Jumbo Visma eliminated boredom on Tuesday by scattering the peloton on the Cap Blanc-Nez coast. But it is not because something significant has finally happened that this first pass of arms should encourage us to extrapolate on the sequel.
Today is Tuesday of the first week, not Thursday of the third. The cobblestones, the Planche des Belles Filles, the Galibier, the Alpe, Hautacam and so on are coming. Certainly making Calais the trailer for what we are going to experience from here to Paris is about as relevant as relying on polls on the first round of the presidential election four or five years from now. of the deadline. So let’s stay calm.
If Wout van Aert made the show, the Belgian, as strong as he is, is not concerned by the general’s battle. In the high mountains, perhaps even before, he will return to his role as a team member at Jumbo. Moreover, no one wasted time among the favorites. So, yes, Vingegaard was a little more bloody than Roglic. Yes, Tadej Pogacar stayed behind. But on the scale of a three-week long race, it’s hardly a hitch.
Will the cobblestone stage disappoint like the Pont stage?
For the sake of consistency with my answer in Sunday’s debates, where I explained that this 5th stage was the one I was most looking forward to during the week, I must say no. And two days later, I still think so: the cobblestones are not going to disappoint. Admittedly, there won’t be any rain like in 2014 (the risk of drops falling is almost nil) and the wind should be weak.
But the show expected on Wednesday depends much less on the weather than last Saturday, when it had to blow hard and in the right direction. Cobblestones remain cobblestones. They are scary, no matter their mood of the day, and no runner knows in what state he will come out of this Hell of the North in a summery way.
The route seems to me better prepared for the fight than in 2018. The sectors are certainly less numerous (11 against 15). But they are longer and therefore more conducive to creating gaps. Moreover, all are concentrated in the second part of the stage. It will only be more unbreathable. I also believe that many teams are motivated to toughen up the race, or at least have an interest in doing so. We will certainly only be on the 5th day of racing and the temptation to run with the handbrake will remain great.
But we must not forget that Tadej Pogacar is still the man to beat and if there is a place to make him lose the Tour, or at least put a spoke in his wheels, it’s Wednesday. The Slovenian, as skilful as he is on the cobbles, is a runner like any other. He is safe from anything on such an unpredictable terrain.
The RP palette – An unfavorable wind and cobblestones: “Gentlemen, make the right choice of equipment”
In any case, Christian Prudhomme must wish it. Otherwise it is the two hot spots of this first phase of the Tour (the “famous” Great Belt on Saturday, before arriving at Nyborg, and therefore these 20 kilometers of cobblestones) that will have been pschitt. It would be even worse for the organizers if Tuesday’s stage were neutral. In the second Danish act, it was bad luck. The wind was blowing too lightly, or not in the right direction, or both. But this ally was indispensable. This time, the weather factor should not be necessary.
The ideal scenario? A real fight, a non-marginal impact on the general classification between the favorites, but that everyone comes out of it physically intact. With this in mind, this 5th stage promises to be good: a real “playground” to offer a race that lives up to expectations, but a much more lenient sky than during the 2014 edition, when Chris Froome, the holder of the title, had been forced to retire. Nobody wants to see a candidate for the final victory eliminated on a fall, even if, with the cobblestones, the risk will always exist, even without rain.
It is undoubtedly an important appointment. It may even be decisive for some. No one will win the 2022 Tour on Tuesday, but there might be a few who could lose it or, at the very least, jeopardize their chances. In hotel rooms, a few nights may be difficult or restless. Cobblestones cause concern because they create uncertainty. As David Gaudu rightly says, it will not only be necessary to have good legs, but also a little success. A particular exercise, tension, there is everything to live a meaningful moment. The opposite would be surprising. And disappointing.
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