Jonas Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team suffered another traumatic day on stage 15 of the Tour de France with the race leader losing two key climbing lieutenants, as the peloton raced through furnace-like conditions on the road to Carcassonne.
Primoz Roglic, who had started the day as lead support rider to Vingegaard, and Steven Kruijswijk, both quit the Tour through injury, Roglic withdrawing before the stage began and Kruijswijk after crashing with 135 kilometres to race.
Worse still, Vingegaard and teammate Tiesj Benoot also came down with 58 kilometres remaining and, in an echo of the stage to Arenberg, in which the Dutch team appeared chaotic, had to chase to resume position alongside closest rival, defending champion, Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates).
But the loss of both Roglic and Kruijswijk, two of the team’s strongest climbers, with three days of racing in the Pyrenees looming, may yet prove damaging. “I’m OK,” Vingegaard said at the finish. He still leads Pogacar by two minutes and 22 seconds. “I’ve some road rash down my left side. I went down but quickly got up again. I feel a bit sore but that’s how it is after a crash.”
On the absence of Roglic and Kruijswijk, he admitted that he had “lost two very important team members, two very strong riders, which isn’t nice. It was quite a bad day for us”.
Vingegaard’s sports director, Grischa Niermann, was more direct. “It was a shit day,” he said. “When Steven crashed it was immediately clear that he wouldn’t continue as he fell hard on his shoulder. Then we jumped in the car to continue to chase the peloton and just when we arrived, Jonas and Tiesj were on the ground.
“So everybody waited for them and then they got dropped trying to bring Jonas back to the peloton. I think Jonas was OK after that but we’re another man down and that’s not good. Luckily, there’s the rest day. And then we see what the impact of this day was.”
The 202-kilometre stage was run in broiling heat, with several riders appearing at their very limit as the peloton raced on tarmac that had been sprayed with water to avoid it melting.
Professional cycling’s extreme weather protocol, allowing for more regular feeding and drinking from team cars alongside a relaxation of the stage’s time limit, was also invoked, but for some riders the 40 degree temperatures were too much.
Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) took the first Tour stage win of his career, after a final breakaway, French rider Benjamin Thomas (Cofidis), was caught inside the final 500 metres. “It’s incredible,” Philipsen said. “I know how much it means to win a stage of the Tour de France.”
Monday is a rest day, but the racing resumes on Tuesday with the first major Pyrenean climbs and the stage set for Pogacar to set about Vingegaard, much as he did Roglic in 2020, when he won the Tour on the penultimate day. The irrepressible 23-year-old is now, once again, breathing down Jumbo-Visma’s neck, with his preferred terrain of the Pyrenees on the horizon.
“There are three days of mountain stages between the best riders, the leaders, and I don’t think that having teammates will make such a big difference,” UAE Emirates team manager Mauro Gianetti said. “Tadej just had one bad day, but we are in the position now that we have the opportunity to try something.”
“This is a different situation to 2020 [when Pogacar usurped Roglic in the final time trial]. We still have one week, there’s a lot of kilometres still to race but Tadej is confident. He knows he has won the Tour twice and that he can do it again.”
Roglic, winner of the past three Tours of Spain, will now turn his attention elsewhere but even injured, his presence will be sorely missed. Niermann, though, dismissed suggestions that the Slovenian’s absence could be critical.
“If we thought he could have played a role for Jonas in the Pyrenees, he would still be here but he was going downhill very, very fast and his body was just not reacting anymore,” Niermann said of Roglic’s injuries. “Then we would have another rider being dropped today. It’s a big pity that Stevie is out now as well but it doesn’t change anything about the decision we took.”