To win the Tour de France, first you must make your rivals lose the Tour de France. With relentless, methodical, pitiless discipline, the Jumbo-Visma team set about dismantling Tadej Pogačar’s lead in the race in the first high-mountain test of the 2022 Grande Boucle, which finished on the Col du Granon. By the day’s end, the Slovenian’s yellow jersey was fully unzipped and hanging open, a visual metaphor for his increasingly tenuous ownership of the garment, as he struggled to the summit almost three minutes behind stage winner Jonas Vingegaard. Maybe the time loss will turn out to be temporary, because this is the Tour, and this is Tadej Pogačar, but the reputational damage may take longer to repair.
A stinging series of waspish accelerations over the Col du Télégraphe and on the early slopes of the Col du Galibier by Jumbo-Visma team-mates Primož Roglič and Vingegaard temporarily isolated the yellow jersey, but the real damage was invisible. Pogačar was equal to their accelerations, and still had the energy and morale to mug for the cameras on the approach to the Col du Granon, but what nobody could tell yet was that the seeds of the Slovenian’s undoing had already been sown.
On the steep slopes of the Granon, we saw hints of fragility. Up until this day, Pogačar had held the Tour in what looked like an iron grip. On every single stage bar the three sprints between stages 2 and 4, he had finished first of the GC favourites. He was best of them in the stage 1 TT, finished ahead of them on the cobbles of stage 5, won the uphill sprint in Longwy on stage 6, won the summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles on stage 7, finished third in Lausanne on stage 8 and outsprinted the GC group on the uphill finishes of stage 9 in Châtel and stage 10 in Megève.
However, Nairo Quintana, 12th overall, attacked at the bottom of the Granon, and Pogačar didn’t follow. Romain Bardet, even more dangerous than Quintana at seventh overall, attacked with five and a half kilometres to go, and Pogačar didn’t respond. And when Jonas Vingegaard, second overall, went, with just under five to go, not only did Pogačar not respond, but he couldn’t even follow his team-mate Rafał Majka as he slowly ramped up the pace to try and match the flying Dane. Once the crack had opened, it quickly widened, as Pogačar visibly slowed and was caught and passed by a succession of riders. Over 10 days, two years in fact, Pogačar had tormented his rivals; in just five kilometres, payback was exacted. The Granon is an exposed, open climb, so Pogačar’s misery was on full display; everybody could see exactly how slow his progress was.
The view from the top of the Granon is a panoramic sweep of the junction between the Durance and Guisane valleys. Briançon sits far below, further down the valley, and the massive bulk of the Massif des Écrins dominates the horizon to the south west. However, you can’t see right down into the valley from the Granon - a shoulder of mountain with a scrubby plateau obscures the view. What we couldn’t quite see over the course of Pogačar’s dominant-looking opening 10 days was that instead of punching his rivals into submission, he was spending energy on showy moves. Perhaps the dazzling aura of the young Slovenian and his yellow jersey blinded us to the reality: he was picking up seconds here and there, but he was also expending a lot of energy to do so. All those efforts and sprints, for just 39 seconds of lead. But just because we couldn’t see this until the top of the Granon, didn’t mean it wasn’t there. This has been coming.
However, this was not just a case of Tadej Pogačar losing the yellow jersey. Jumbo-Visma also won it, with an ambitious and assertive plan involving almost the entire team. In 2020, Primož Roglič and Jumbo-Visma had dominated the Tour de France, only to see Pogačar overturn his compatriot’s lead in the penultimate-day time trial, and the Dutch team have waited two years to get their revenge. Wout van Aert went into the early move, which gained several minutes on the peloton. Then on the Col du Télégraphe, Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte got involved in exploding the GC group. By the top, there were just five riders left: Laporte, Roglič and Vingegaard from Jumbo-Visma, plus Geraint Thomas of Ineos and Pogačar. And on the Galibier, with 60km still to ride, Jumbo-Visma got to work. On the draggy early slopes, with Laporte already dropped, Roglič and Vingegaard took it in turns to attack Pogačar, while Geraint Thomas grimly hung on. Roglič went first, then Vingegaard, then Roglič. Then Pogačar had a go. Then Roglič. Then Vingegaard (this was a really big one). Then Roglič. Then Vingegaard. Then Roglič. Then Roglič again. In total they attacked nine times. A yellow jersey has not been worked over like this in a long, long time.
The race settled a little over the Galibier, and Jumbo even took the risky decision to instruct Van Aert to wait for the dropped Roglič on the long descent. Van Aert paced the Roglič group back on, and for a while there were five Jumbo riders - Vingegaard, Roglič, Van Aert, Steven Kruijswijk and Sepp Kuss - in a group of 18. But Vingegaard turned out not to need them all. His attack, when it came, was devastating. And as Tadej Pogačar struggled up in seventh place, 2:51 behind Vingegaard, he suddenly looked very young again.