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Jonas Vingegaard clearly knows how to look after himself. The Dane may be vying for a podium spot in his debut Tour de France, but his Jumbo-Visma team had no qualms about leaving him to his own devices for much of the haul through the Pyrenees to Andorra La Vella.

Wout van Aert and eventual stage winner Sepp Kuss were dispatched into the day’s early break that went clear on the Col de Llauro, which meant that Vingegaard didn’t have his team’s best climbers for company as the Tour reached its highest point on the towering Port d’Envalira.

It was perhaps a sign that Jumbo-Visma had rather more confidence in Van Aert and Kuss’ ability to conjure up a stage win than in Vingegaard’s potential to finish on the podium. Then again, it might simply have been an indication of the team’s faith in Vingegaard’s own staying power.

“I wasn’t that isolated,” Vingegaard told reporters in the mixed zone after reaching Andorra La Vella safely in the yellow jersey group. “If I’d had any problems, I had two guys out in front who would have waited for me. So, yeah, I never felt like I was in any bad situation.”

Vinegaard dealt comfortably with Ineos Grenadiers’ forcing on the upper slopes of the Envalira, and he didn’t miss a beat when a wave of attacking rippled through the yellow jersey group on the final ascent of the Col de Beixalis. The 24-year-old was able to track accelerations from Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Rigoberto Uràn (EF Education-Nippo), and he also put in two digs of his own.

Unlike at Mont Ventoux in midweek, Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) was this time able to match Vingegaard’s pace, and the podium contenders – save for Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), distanced on the descent of the Envalira – dropped into Andorra La Vella together. Van Aert had by then dropped back to the yellow jersey group, and he helped to pace Vingegaard, et al, home, 4:51 down on Kuss.

“I tried a few times and it seemed like nobody was stronger than the other in the favourites’ group today, but at least I tried,” Vingegaard said. “I came in together with the best guys and there’s still two really hard mountain stages left and I’ll do my best.”

Asked to describe the final ascent, Vingegaard smiled wryly. “Hard,” he deadpanned. “It was going fast and there was attack upon attack. It was a bit stop and go. It was hard, of course, but it’s also nice to be there.”

Leader

Martin’s travails mean that Vingegaard moves up a place in the overall standings, and he now lies third, 5:32 off Pogačar, as the Tour breaks for its second rest day. The third-year professional could not possibly have expected to be in this position when he set out from Brest two weeks ago as part of Primož Roglič’s praetorian guard.

Roglič’s crash on stage 3 changed the tenor of Jumbo-Visma’s Tour. The Slovenian was forced out through his injuries at the end of the opening week, and Robert Gesink and Tony Martin also abandoned after crashing. The Dutch squad’s race began to take on a different hue last Wednesday, when Van Aert soloed to victory over the Ventoux and Vingegaard became the first – and only – rider to trouble Pogačar on this Tour.

“The first week was probably the worst we could have had, when we lost Primož,” Vingegaard said. “We lost pretty much everything but we fought back and it’s going well. We have two stage wins now, so we’ll keep going.”

While Pogačar’s lead looks all but unbridgeable, the margins are rather tighter in the contest for the second and third steps of the podium, with just 58 seconds separating the second-placed Uràn from the 6th-placed Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe).

Vingegaard’s acceleration on the Ventoux, his assurance on the Beixalis and, of course, his strong showing in the Laval time trial, make him an obvious podium contender, even if there will be question marks over his ability to last the distance at this level. This, after all, is just the second Grand Tour of his career after he helped shepherd Roglič to Vuelta a España victory last November.

“I’ll take it day by day and we’ll see what the result is going to be in the end. If it’s a podium, it’s a podium, if it’s a 10th place, it’s a 10th place,” said Vingegaard, who evinces the same calm in the mixed zone as he does on the Tour’s highest mountain pass. The man who used to ice fish for a living in a factory on the North Sea coast appears to be warming to the role of leader.

“I think I needed some days to get into it,” he said. “It’s a bit of a change in mindset since Primož went out of the Tour. But yeah, I think I’m growing into it.”

SOURCE: CyclingNews   (go to source)
AUTHOR: Barry Ryan
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