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Key Takeaways: Tour de France Stage 17

Tadej Pogačar won his 3rd stage of this year’s Tour de France when he beat race-leader Jonas Vingegaard in a head-to-head sprint finish atop the mind-bogglingly steep runway of the Peyragudes Altiport. Pogačar’s stage win came after a stunning display of strength from his numerically depleted UAE team, who ripped the peloton to shreds up and over the day’s final three climbs and created massive gaps on every GC contender except Vingegaard. While this show of strength, and Pogačar’s win, were impressive, at the end of the day, the two-time champion barely dented the overall lead of Vingegaard, while his Danish rival got one stage closer to taking his first Tour de France overall victory and ending Pogačar’s Tour winning streak.

Stage Top 3:
1) Tadej Pogačar +0
2) Jonas Vingegaard +0
3) Brandon McNulty +32
Stage GC Time Gaps w/Time Bonuses
Tadej Pogačar +0
Jonas Vingegaard +4
Geraint Thomas +2’17
Romain Bardet +2’48
David Gaudu +3’27
Nairo Quintana +3’42

GC Top Ten:
1) Jonas Vingegaard +0
2) Tadej Pogačar +2’18
3) Geraint Thomas +4’56
4) Nairo Quintana + 7’53
5) David Gaudu +7’57
6) Romain Bardet +9’21
7) Louis Meintjes +9’24
8) Aleksandr Vlasov +9’56
9) Adam Yates +14’33
10) Enric Mas +16’35

Stage 17 Notebook:
67.4km-to-go: Jumbo patrols the front of the race with an iron fist, which keeps an early breakaway from getting clear. This means we are Gruppo Compatto when we hit the Col d’Aspin. Thibaut Pinot and Alexey Lutsenko rip clear towards the top of the climb but with the peloton riding such a hard pace, it is nearly impossible for them to get enough of a gap from here to hold off the GC favorites on the final climb.

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53km: After Romain Bardet attacks and gets a small gap up the Col d’Aspin, UAE sends Mikkel Bjerg to the front to take over pacemaking on the following climb. Bjerg hits the front with an incredible pace that dramatically thins down the group.

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27.4km: On the penultimate climb, Bjerg pulls off after a very long term and Brandon McNulty takes over at an even higher pace that immediately drops multiple riders, including David Gaudu.

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23.1km: After just a few kms of pacemaking, McNulty has dropped every rider except his team leader Pogacar and Vingegaard, with Geraint Thomas the last rider to hang on.

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20.3km: With 200m left on the climb, Pogacar makes the extremely strange decision of attacking. Vingegaard is able to easily respond while McNulty has to ride tempo and hope he can catch up on the descent.

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18.6km: It seemed like Pogacar was hoping to get clear over the top and put Vingegaard under pressure on the descent, but McNulty easily bridges back to the two leaders, where Vingegaard has taken the lead and is riding a very comfortable pace on the descent.

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16.2km: McNulty gets to the front to lead Pogacar down the tricky descent, but he immediately struggles with the tight corners, and we can see Vingegaard cutting inside on each switchback to protect himself in case McNulty slides out. Looking at how comfortable he is on this descent, it becomes immediately clear that Pogacar won’t be able to put Vingegaard under pressure on a downhill.

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8km: As they hit the bottom of the Peyragudes climb, McNulty is still leading Vingegaard/Pogacar and they have increased their advantage to Geraint Thomas out to 1’18 and Quintana to 2’34.

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5.3km-3.5km: A few kms into the climb, Vingegaard looks unshaken while Thomas is still holding his gap at 1’19. However, with 3.5km remaining, McNulty’s pace is too high for Thomas, whose gap has increased to 1’31 and he rides clear of Bardet in an attempt to limit his losses.

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250m: McNulty keeps setting pace until Pogacar attacks on the extremely steep final pitch. However, Vingegaard is right on his wheel.

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50m: When he sees he can’t drop Vingegaard, Pogacar slows down to force Vingegaard around him and waits to sprint until Vingegaard goes first.

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Finish: Pogacar powers over the finish line for his 3rd stage win at this Tour but he isn’t rewarded with a time gap since Vingegaard is right on his wheel.

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Key Takeaways:
1) Tadej Pogacar put in an incredible ride to win the stage, but likely can’t win this Tour
• The 23-year-old gets his 9th Tour de France stage win in just three starts after polishing off an incredible effort from his entire team. And since the 2020 Tour, he has won a staggering 37% of Tour de France mountain stages.
• Something that stuck out during the final few hundred kilometers is that he initially seemed to surge to try to distance Vingegaard and take time, but when he realized he couldn’t shake the Dane, he slowed to push Vingegaard ahead and then surged again with the intent to win the stage.
• While Pogacar got an impressive stage win, it is telling that he couldn’t pry open a gap of even a single second to Vingegaard on the absurdly steep finish where Romain Bardet put 22-seconds into Chris Froome over just a few hundred meters back in 2017. The fact that he only gained 4-seconds back on Vingegaard after this effort tells us that he will struggle mightily to overcome the rest of his 138-seconds deficit.
• And if he had the ability to attack lower on the final climb, he would have. The fact that he sat on McNulty until the final few hundred meters tells us he was on the limit up the entire final slope.
• Another potential obstacle between Pogacar and a comeback win is he and his team’s in-stage tactical decisions, like his decision to attack at the top of the second-to-last climb, which only served to leave him without his teammate McNulty and isolated with a better descender in Vingegaard.

2) Jonas Vingegaard once again looked unshakeable under immense pressure from Pogacar and UAE
• Pogacar’s UAE team tested the former fishmonger with an incredibly high all-day pace, but Vingegaard barely seemed to notice.
• While he couldn’t outsprint Pogacar for the stage win, he followed closely behind and limited his losses to just the difference in time bonuses, and got one day closer to winning the Tour de France.
• His Jumbo team might have struggled at times during the stage, but Vingegaard never looked rattled and appeared in complete control of his lead the entire day. If he could hold onto McNulty’s extremely hot pace over the final two climbs, it seems difficult to imagine anything shaking him loose.

3) The bifurcation at the front of the GC means Ineos/Geraint Thomas are stuck defending their third place overall
• While Vingegaard and Pogacar finished on the same time, the gaps to the rest of the GC contenders were absurdly large. In an era of mico time gaps, they finished over 2 minutes ahead of Thomas and Bardet and over three minutes ahead of Baudu, Vlasov and Quintana on a stage that lacked a single HC climb.
• This confirms to us that there is a massive gulf in quality between the first and second riders in the GC and the rest of the field and all but ensures that the Ineos superteam and their leader Geraint Thomas will be stuck defending their third place overall over the next two GC days instead of chasing the win.

4) Team UAE’s unlikely show of force blew up the stage
• At the start of the stage, they were down to just three support riders for Pogacar after the withdrawals of Marc Soler and Rafał Majka, it seemed impossible for the UAE team to blow the race up from a long way out.
• However, they came out and absolutely destroyed the stage at an incredibly fast pace and put minutes into every rider in the top ten outside of Vingegaard.
• Whenever they got a new rider at the front, they appeared to have this rider surge slightly over threshold to get a number of riders out of the draft. This meant that any riders already on their limit, like Quintana, Gaudu, Bardet, and even Thomas, were initially gapped and unable to claw their way back on once the pace settled back down due to the relatively high climbing speed giving the remaining riders in the wheels an easier ride.
• With Hirschi not as his best, they essentially had to control the final two climbs with just two riders in Mikkel Bjerg and Brandon McNulty.
o Bjerg: 53km-28km
o McNulty: 28km-200m
• This is an insanely impressive feat from these two riders and shows that even with such a limited team, they still have the strength to potentially launch a Pogacar attack tomorrow.

5) The Jumbo-Visma team looked off their best
• Vingegaard’s Jumbo team controlled the stage early on, but started to look a little ragged once they hit the climbs.
• Their pace wasn’t high enough on the Aspin to deter attacks from top-ten GC contenders and when UAE took over with Bjerg and McNulty, their numbers dwindled incredibly fast until Vingegaard was isolated halfway up the day’s penultimate climb.
• In theory, this ‘weakness’ gives UAE and Pogacar an opening to pry the jersey off Vingegaard tomorrow, but with the man himself looking so strong, isolating him from his team won’t be enough.

6) The relatively short and easy route facilitated the extremely high pace in the front group
• It is no coincidence that some of the largest GC time gaps produced in a modern Tour de France mountain stage came over on a new-age shorter stage of 129km with no HC climbs. This ‘easier’ route allowed the riders at the front to keep the pace high essentially from the first kilometer of climbing through to the finish line, which is fatal for any rider slightly off the pace.
• To give an example of just how hard the pace was is that Brandon McNulty paced on the penultimate climb, the Col d’Azet, at 6.58 w/kg (≈460 watts) for 22:24 and broke a record set by Pantani, Ullrich, and Virenque before going on to pace hard on Peyragudes at 6.23 w/kg (≈436 watts) for 22:57. These are staggering hard numbers to match and show exactly why so many riders were so far off the pace.
• Over a longer stage with ‘harder’ climbs, McNulty would not have been able to rev his engine this high over multiple climbs, which would mean the team would have had to ride a more conservative pace and allow more riders to stay in the lead group.

7) Brandon McNulty is a massive talent
• The 24-year-old American has shown in the past, mainly with his 6th place at the Tokyo Olympic Road Race and winning stage 5 at the 2022 Paris-Nice, that he is a world-class rider, but today’s exhibition was a confirmation that he can be one of the world’s elite climbers.
• Over the course of two climbs, his pace decimated some of the world’s best GC riders (Quintana, Bardet, Thomas, Gaudu) and even appeared to put his team leader, Pogacar, and the race leader, Vingegaard, under pressure at times. The fact that no attacks went until the final few hundred meters would be confirmation that his pace was so hard that neither rider could attack off of it.
• You could argue that this was a disadvantage to his teammate Pogacar, since he needed to attack to take time. But, any successful attack on Vingegaard would have needed to come off an extremely hard pace, and if Pogacar couldn’t attack off McNulty’s pace, he certainly wouldn’t have been able to drop Vingegaard.
• It might be tempting to forecast a possible grand tour GC career for McNulty down the line, but it is best to wait and see on this one since finding top-tier GC contenders is more complex than extrapolating a rider’s best climbing work as domestique across an entire three-week race.

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