The polemics about contrasting ambitions for Wout van Aert and Jonas Vingegaard in the 2023 Tour de France were blown away on the first mountain stage to Laruns as the two riders and their Jumbo-Visma teammates combined to put Tadej Pogačar and his UAE Team Emirates squad under pressure.
In a series of circumstances like chess moves that favoured the brave, Van Aert went in the 37-rider attack along with Tiesj Benoot and Christophe Laporte.
The idea was to be up the road to help Vingegaard on the descent and valley road to the finish, but with Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe), the eventual stage winner, and other strong riders in the significant attack forced UAE Team Emirates to chase for much of the stage.
When Sepp Kuss set up Vingegaard for his attack near the summit of the Col de Marie Blanque with 19km to go, Pogačar was suddenly reeling and the Dane surged away to jump 53 seconds ahead of Pogačar in the overall standings.
“It’s an unexpected advantage on Pogačar and it’s a good situation on GC,” Van Aert said, amused to have been awarded the most aggressive rider prize for the way he often dragged the attack along.
Jumbo-Visma’s tactics were not perfect but they were impressive. Vingegaard reached the top of the Col de Marie Blanque before Van Aert and Benoot and so had to lead a select group to the line.
“I’ll have to watch the race again because I only saw Jonas for a second today when he blasted past me,” Van Aert joked in the podium area after collecting his prize.
“He apparently has really good legs and is a great start to the mountain stages like this. It’s more than we expected.
“It was not a clear plan to attack today but the circumstances lead us to it. It was a hard stage in the bunch because we put the pressure on the whole day and that suited Jonas later.”
Thursday’s mountain finish at Cauterets-Cambasque looked more suited to a GC battle and a chance for Jumbo-Visma to attack as a team.
They will continue to work for Vingegaard and take on UAE Team Emirates, but have also made themselves some new rivals. Yet now Jumbo-Visma, rather than UAE Team Emirates, seem in control.
“We were happy to be in the break but we didn’t actually want to bring Jai Hindley and Giulio Ciccone up into the GC because they’re strong rivals,” Van Aert explained with a long-game tactical view.
“Now we don’t only have to watch Tadej Pogačar, Hindley is ahead of us too. He seems to be super strong but we’re super confident now too.”