Jumbo-Visma’s masterplan to unravel Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) at the 2022 Tour de France was partly inspired by an unlikely source: Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag.
Jonas Vingegaard ended Jumbo-Visma’s wait for the yellow jersey in Paris on Sunday, with his triumph teed up by a spectacular double assault on Pogacar on Stage 11.
Vingegaard and team-mate Primoz Roglic, then still in GC contention, took it in turns to accelerate clear on the kinder slopes of the Col du Galibier, forcing Pogacar to close each move and expend energy. The tactic was ruthlessly simple: force Pogacar to work twice as hard as Vingegaard and Roglic. He took the bait.
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Those succession of mini efforts proved pivotal when, with 4.5km to go, Vingegaard made attacked on the Col du Granon. Pogacar could not respond, eventually coming home 2’51” adrift of the Dane. It was a day for the ages and one that effectively saw the Tour sewn up.
Now Jumbo-Visma’s directeur sportif, Merijn Zeeman, has revealed his fellow Dutchman Ten Hag helped lay the blueprints for one of the most dramatic attacks in Tour history.
"Someone who has helped me a lot is Erik ten Hag,” said Zeeman.
“Someone from a completely different sport, but I wanted to understand from him: how do you arrive at tactics? What is the essence of your sport for you? Before you make a game plan, what's behind that? I've had the opportunity to talk to him about that a number of times."
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Jumbo-Visma’s desire to try something new was understandable.
In 2020, Roglic had a seemingly unassailable lead heading into the final competitive stage: a 36km time trial that finished on the brutal Planche des Belle Filles. But Pogacar soared and Roglic collapsed as the yellow jersey changed hands in a dramatic finale.
The next year, Jumbo’s challenge faded miserably as Roglic crashed early on and an inexperienced Vingegaard was a distant runner-up.
According to Dutch outlet NOS, a wounded Jumbo-Visma began pouring over data to answer one question: what were Pogacar’s weaknesses? They even analysed a podcast where Pogacar spoke openly about his flaws.
“With great talents such as Wout van Aert, Primoz Roglic, Jonas Vingegaard and Steven Kruijswijk in your team, you can also come up with different tactics,” continued Zeeman.
“Just as good football coaches have good football players at their disposal with whom they can win matches, we can also make plans because you have good riders at your disposal.
"Then we really started preparing for the Tour. We had already done quite a lot of reconnaissance. We knew the course better and better. And we also knew what Pogacar was especially good at.
"We were still looking for that. What are his pitfalls, where is his weakness, what kind of team does he have, where can we hit them? And how do you translate that into our qualities in the course?"
The plan was hatched: make Pogacar expend a lot of energy before a long hard climb.
Stage 11 looked ideal with back-to-back hors categorie – the toughest – climbs on the menu. It worked perfectly. Vingegaard and Roglic chiselled away at Pogacar on the Col du Galibier, with the former then launching an unrivalled attack on the Col du Granon to seize yellow and control of the race.
Jumbo-Visma also had a similar strategy planned for Stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez, but after their exploits the previous day it was deemed unnecessary.
Vingegaard then weathered a flurry of Pogacar attacks – notably on Stage 18 which saw the pair share handshake after the Dane waiting for his Slovenian rival after a crash – before all but wrapping up a maiden Grand Tour title on the climb to Hautacam.
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