Recent Tour de France history suggests that the man who begins the final week in the yellow jersey will defend it for the rest of the journey to Paris. In the 23 Tours there have been since the introduction of a second rest day in 1999, on only seven occasions has a different rider ended up wearing yellow on the Champs Elysees podium (with the usual disclaimer that Lance Armstrong has since been stripped of his seven titles, and so too has Alberto Contador in 2010).
On the few occasions it has happened, extenuating circumstances have usually applied. In both 2011 and 2004 Thomas Voeckler was clinging on to their jersey against the odds, and always appeared likely to lose it; as was the case in 2019 with Julian Alaphilippe. Michael Rasmussen would likely have gone on to win in 2007 had he not been kicked out the race for missing a dope test, while Floyd Landis’ seizing of yellow from Óscar Pereiro was later reversed after the American tested positive. And although Frank Schleck lost yellow in 2008, the jersey remained in house as it was ultimately passed on to his CSC teammate Carlos Sastre.
Only in 2020 did a team and rider that appeared firmly in control of the jersey lose it in the final week for reasons non-doping related — and on that occasion, somewhat ominously, it was Tadej Pogačar who triumphed at the expense of Jumbo-Visma’s Primož Roglič.
So despite the historical precedent, and despite a seemingly healthy advantage of 2-22 over Pogačar, you can see why Jonas Vingegaard and Jumbo-Visma might be nervous heading into the final week of the 2022 Tour. Pogačar has already looked eager to throw everything he’s got in order to try and dethrone the Dane, and has the star quality to put him under serious pressure this week, and potentially repeat history by once again overthrowing a Jumbo-Visma rider at the top of the classification.
Vingegaard crashed on stage 15 (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Yet more worryingly for Jumbo-Visma, they also now have to defend the jersey without the services of both Roglič and Steven Kruijswijk, both of whom abandoned on Sunday. That leaves them with just five riders to assist Vingegaard, a factor that could have huge consequences to how this Tour plays out.
To put into context how understaffed the team now is, only one rider has won the Tour in the past 23 editions with so few teammates making it to Paris — and that, too, was Pogačar in 2020. And unlike on that occasion, when the Slovenian only took yellow on the penultimate day, Jumbo-Visma are tasked with having to use their remaining domestiques to defend the lead during the final week.
More often than not, a Tour-winning team will either lose one rider or no-one at all throughout the duration of a Tour. One notable exception occurred in 2013, when Chris Froome’s Sky line-up also lost two riders prior to the final week, but that was back when Grand Tour teams consisted of 9 riders rather than 8. And whereas Froome lost Edvald Boasson Hagen and Vasil Kiriyenka that time, two men more useful in the engine room for the flatter stages of the opening phase of the Tour, Vingegaard has been shorn of two of his most important climbing domestiques.
So it’s on the climbs, rather than other terrain, where Jumbo-Visma will be severely weakened, and therefore it’s here their GC rivals are likely to strike. The Dutch squad still has Sepp Kuss, Wout van Aert (who’s freedom will surely now be curbed) and possibly Tiesj Benoot (depending on how inured he is post-crash) for the upcoming Pyrenean mountains. But they’re likely to be outnumbered by UAE Team Emirates, who have Marc Soler, Brandon McNulty and the ever-dependable Rafał Majka, and even more so by Ineos Grenadiers, where Tom Pidcock, Dani Martínez, Jonathan Castroviejo, Dylan van Baarle and, above all, Adam Yates (who, in fifth on GC at just 4-06, can still be played as a dangerous GC card) are all at Geraint Thomas’ disposal.
The two successive mountain top finishes in the Pyrenees on stages 17 and 18 are the obvious battlegrounds for this GC contest. Of the two, the latter, the Hautacam, is especially fearsome, known for its double-digit gradients during its second, and for being the climb where Miguel Indurain famously cracked in 1996. The Peyragudes doesn’t quite have the same reputation, and lasts little more than half the length at 8km, but it should be remembered that Chris Froome was distanced towards the top in 2017, and might have lost serious time had his rivals attacked earlier.
Pogačar attacks Vingegaard on the climb to Mende (Image: Zac Williams/SWpix)
Yet given the attacking, chaotic nature of the Tour so far, and Jumbo-Visma’s lack of numbers, it might be climbs that precede these two summit finishes where this Tour is ultimately won and lost. The riders will have already spent over 30km climbing across three mountains prior to arriving at the foot of Peyragudes on Wednesday, enough time perhaps for Vingegaard to be isolated. There might be stretches of valley roads in between, but it’s here where Jumbo-Visma’s comparative lack of numbers might be exposed the worst, should he be forced to chase down moves from GC rivals all by himself.
The Hautacam on Thursday, meanwhile, is preceded by two of the hardest climbs of the whole Tour, the Col de Spandelles and the Col d’Aubisque. The severity of these summits makes it yet more likely that they’ll be GC action on them, and if Vingegaard, or anyone else for that matter, cracks here, it will likely be race over. And this time virtually the entire final 80km is spent either ascending or descending, offering encouragement to anyone who feels inspired to make a bold individual move.
Even tomorrow’s relatively benign stage 16 could see fireworks. Usually, the inclusion of just two category one climbs followed by a long descent to the finish might be enough to deter attacks from the favourites, but given how full-on the racing has been at this Tour, the size of the gap to Vingegaard, and the possibility to exploit his team, this could be different. That descent to the finish instead looks set to be perceived as an opportunity rather than a deterrent, a chance to test Vingegaard in a different way.
Finally, there’s still a chance after all this that the race for yellow might come down to the final individual time trial in Lot. At 40.7km, it’s sure long enough for big time gaps just as was the case in 2020, even if it ends with a short hill rather than the long climb of Planche des Belles Filles that was Roglič’s undoing that day.
When it comes to Vingegaard, Pogačar and Thomas, it’s unclear which will have the advantage against the clock, especially after the wearying factor of three weeks' worth of racing. No-one is likely to be comfortable with a small lead going into it, and so all will be obliged to keep attacking in the stages before it, setting the stage for a thrilling run of racing in the Pyrenees. For once, the yellow jersey is looking decidedly up for grabs heading into the final week.
Cover image: Pauline Ballet/ASO