Cycling-Phenomenal Van Aert key to Vingegaard success

By Julien Pretot

HAUTACAM, France (Reuters) – While Tadej Pogacar won the last two editions of the Tour de France mainly through his individual talent, his likely successor, Jonas Vingegaard, has relied on a formidable team and the jaw-dropping performances of Wout van Aert.

Vingegaard won the 18th stage, a gruelling mountain trek in the Pyrenees at the top of Hautacam, on Thursday to extend his overall lead to a massive three minutes 26 seconds over Pogacar after extraordinary demolition work by Van Aert.

The 27-year-old Belgian, initially a cyclocross and one-day race specialist, jumped away from the peloton from the gun before setting a devilish pace on the final climb after being caught by his Jumbo-Visma leader Vingegaard and Pogacar.

He then took an astonishing turn on the steepest part of the ascent and his pace was too furious even for Pogacar, who lost contact and saw Vingegaard disappear up the road.

The Slovenian picked himself up to go past Van Aert, but the Belgian still managed to finish third, a year after claiming a stunning win on the Mont Ventoux at the end of an epic breakaway.

“To have Wout van Aert, the best rider in the world, as a helper, is incredible,” said Vingegaard, who also paid tribute to his other team mates.

Sepp Kuss has been instrumental on key mountain stages and 2020 runner-up Primoz Roglic sacrificed his own chances in a memorable tactical move that ended up with Pogacar cracking on the Col du Granon in the Alps.

“The Col du Granon stage and today are two really good examples of how strong this team are,” said Vingegaard.

“I think everyone is so incredibly strong and I’m so happy I have such a team around me. They were all incredibly strong today so I have to thank them so many times.”

Jumbo-Visma were down from eight to six when Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk abandoned on Sunday, but sports director Frans Maassen was not too worried.

“Two guys less but we have Wout who counts for three,” he said.

Such is Van Aert’s talent that many wonder whether he can gun for the overall title in future.

“Wout is of course one of the best riders in the world on all terrains. But I don’t think he has ambitions for the general classification,” said Vingegaard.

“But if he does we can share the leadership. I shared the leadership this year with Primoz and I think in the end it’s actually better to have two leaders.”

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)