Highlights of 2022 – Part I

Time to pick five highlights from the season, typically great sporting moments and revisit the moment and review with the benefit of time and hindsight. Presented in no particular order, first is Stage 11 of the Tour de France, the day the race was turned upside down.

This stage was enjoyable on the day but let’s go to the start of the season first because Tadej Pogačar was ruling the roost. The ease of his triumph in the 2021 Tour de France, and his decision to return, was the cornerstone around which many rivals rode. Jumbo-Visma weren’t deterred they literally doubled down, picking Primož Roglič and Jonas Vingegaard for July. Pogačar won the UAE Tour, a vital target for his team’s sponsors who can’t afford to be upstaged in their home race.

He then won Strade Bianche with a long range raid that might not be a sporting highlight of the year because he took the suspense out of the race but it was dominant. Days later he won Tirreno-Adriatico again and was a contender for Milan-Sanremo and when he had a go in the cobbled classics he came close to winning the Tour of Flanders on his debut. After a rest, a runaway win in the Tour of Slovenia suggested everything was on track for the Tour de France.

Before the start in Copenhagen one question was whether the strongest rider or the strongest team would win the race? UAE Emirates were not the strongest team before they lost Matteo Trentin at the last minute. Now this talk of strength is relative to the competition or even compared to their leader, the team wasn’t quite up there (and they still look a season away from a building a fortress around Pogačar). But of course for the Slovenian, why defend when you can attack? He was making moves on the pavé to Arenberg while Jumbo-Visma were trying to stay upright in the yellow jersey by Stage 6 after winning in Longwy, then took more time at the Planche des Belles Filles and more still in Lausanne thanks to third place in the uphill finish. The next day he was sprinting for the finish in Megève and it meant five days in a row where his worst place was seventh.

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Stage 11 started with a bang when Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert attacked early, adding intensity to an already frantic start. For Van der Poel this was a brief swansong as he’d quit the race, one of his moves that infuriates others because he’ll burn up energy that forces them to follow only for him to sit up. All the better for spectators and when a bigger move got across Jumbo-Visma had placed Christophe Laporte in the up the road too.

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Once the race reached the Col du Télégraphe Jumbo-Visma activated their plan with Benoot launching Roglič in an attack. Pogačar gave chase. This was early to make moves and it seemed premature even. Onto the Galibier and the road out of Valloire and Vingegaard was making searing attacks like it was the final climb. It was thrilling and at one point Jumbo-Visma looked like a swarm of bees surrounding the yellow jersey. But Pogačar was holding his ground and as the higher the Galibier got, the more it looked like Vingegaard’s team had gone too soon. By the top of the pass it was just Pogačar and Vingegaard, a situation the Slovenian must have preferred.

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Warren Barguil was first to start the Col du Granon, back after a long absence. His team mate Nairo Quintana set off in pursuit. Later Romain Bardet had a go and it signalled open season on Vingegaard and Pogačar and that the pace wasn’t so high. With 5km to go Vingegaard attacked. Rafał Majka gave chase but crucially Pogačar could not follow and in a flash Majka vanished, Vingegaard was away and Pogačar losing ground, dropped by Geraint Thomas, his yellow jersey flapping in the breeze. He was soon overhauled by David Gaudu and Adam Yates. Vingegaard took the stage and 2m51 on Pogačar to turn the Tour upside down.

There was the sense all this was coming but it was spectacular to see. In the moment the causes of Pogačar’s problems weren’t obvious, it looked like he hadn’t been eating and drinking enough but could have easily been the onset of Covid problems. Fortunately it was the former.

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Why the highlight?
Non-stop action on the stage with moves flying from the start. Jumbo-Visma got to work on the Télégraphe pass and it was clear something big was going to happen, Van Aert was attacking, Laporte was up the road too and then seeing the attacks fly was dramatic. On the mighty Galibier it became duel between Pogačar and Vingegaard, a vintage mano a mano. Only the Lautaret descent offered a lull in the stage’s action. Come the Col du Granon, Vingegaard attacked and rode away, smashing our brittle certainties. It was also thrilling in the moment because if Vingegaard had won the day we presupposed Pogačar would be out to attack and overturn the race, it promised a battle to come.

With the benefit of hindsight…
We never quite got the ding-dong battle with Pogačar regaining ground and making Vingegaard respond in turn. But take a longer view and Pogačar’s supposed Tour hegemony was scattered to the wind. The interesting thing is just how inseparable how Vingegaard and Pogačar were for the three weeks, it often took mistakes and mishaps to separate them and this sets up the possibility of a very close Tour next summer.

29 thoughts on “Highlights of 2022 – Part I”

    • And an interesting Moneyball move from Lotto-Dstny for the TDU.

      They are not using their automatic invite, but are sending Caleb Ewan and Jarrad Drizners to ride with the Australian National Team. They get the full benefit of any points scored but without any need to send a whole team of riders and staff.

  1. My highlight in hindsight of this stage was Pog joking to the moto camera that it was a full gas day. He was humbled soon after. But to his credit, a very gracious loser.

  2. I still wonder how much of Pogačar’s later problems in the race were caused by him attacking so much earlier in the race, for comparatively small rewards. I think his team will try to make him ride more conservatively in future. I also think they might limit his one day racing: I can see him doing the Ardennes but not the cobbled classics. Hopefully, for the drama of it all, I’m wrong.
    I never believe riders when they say ‘I didn’t eat and drink enough’. Really? When there is so much control – when there are people in their ear constantly, telling them to eat and drink? Seems unlikely. Perhaps it’s Pogačar’s rumoured inability to deal with heat, although that could also be just people looking for reasons (as could my suggestion that he burned his energy on early attacks). I think riders are likely to say that it was a one-off ‘fuelling issue’ rather than admit an actual, possible ongoing weakness.

    On a side note, similarly, van der Poel needs to learn to save his energy more. How much of his issues during the TdF were caused by him burning himself out in the Giro by riding hard in mountain stages that he was never going to win (he’s not WVA)?

    • The idea that it was a refuelling issue on Stage 11 also doesn’t stand up to scrutiny when you consider that Pogačar went on to lose another minute to Vingegaard on Stage 18.

      • It was a fuelling issue at least partially caused by previous attacking. While fueling science and carbohydrate intake in particular has come long ways in the past decade (with new mixed carb formulas allowing athletes absorb over 90g/hour), it still difficult do it if you are going hard over several hours including two 30 minute efforts at over 6w/kg.
        While Pogacar might be less effective in heat, temperatures during stage 11 (or any temperatures to be fair) should never result in him being dropped by Gaudu or Thomas (with all respect to both of them).
        That being said, i would still expect Vingegaard to be slightly stronger on long climbs, just not 3 minutes stronger.

    • We saw a much more extreme example of this at the Vuelta a few years ago with Yates just redlining it at every opportunity for meagre rewards only to blow up spectacularly. No reason Pog would be immune from this either.

  3. It was 30C on stage 11 and I think Pogacar’s attack near the top of the Galibier to first reel in Bardet and drop the Jumbo doms did him in. The genius of the Jumbo plan was Roglic and Vingegaard attacking Pogacar at the base of the Galibier on the near false flat section.
    During Froome’s glory days at the TdF he had a few days of “fuelling problems” so UAE not knowing how crazy the riding would be, did maybe misjudge. Stage18’s time loss by Pogacar I would down to pure fatigue from the entire race.

  4. This was the year I totally feel in love with Pogacar.

    I liked him before and kick myself for not quite realising the acheivement of his three victories in the Vuelta in 2019 when he’d only just turned 20, but this year put him out in orbit for me, which is strange as he went on to lose the TDF! On this brilliant stage as written up so brilliantly above!

    Tbh I think it was a silly tactical error of over marking his country man plus a weak team that cost him on the Granon – but Vinegaard has now outclimbed him three times – Ventoux, Granon, Hautacam – so Pog is going to have to think long and hard on how to beat him in future.

    But who cares!! Either way, I’ve simply never seen a rider as good as Pogacar.

    Seeing him ride nearly solo in the bunch over cobbles when other GC contenders were glued to classic riders wheels was just majestic. He’s tactically brilliant (aside from a few impulsive errors this year), his bike handling is clearly awesome, as are obviously his climbing and time trialing and overall versatility – and all that combined with his joy and humbleness have totally won me over as an uber fan.

    Realising that he could win Flanders, San Remo as well as Grand Tours and LBL totally blew my mind. I know he did not win Flanders or San Remo, but in my head he kind of did because simply having the ability to come so close as well as win Grand Tours was enough for me to truly see how unique he is (not to downgrade Nibali who was fantastic, but doesn’t come close to Pogacar’s Time Trial or Climbing abilities).

    I know we’re in an era of special riders, but I don’t believe VAert nor MvDP will ever go for Grand Tours (and why should they!) so however great they are there feel like next-gen Sagan and likewise, I can’t see Vingegaard winning one day races so he’s kind of next-gen Froome – Pogacar is the one who’s truly unique with the abilities to be master of all terrains.

    Remco is the obvious counter, but I have a feeling despite having the ability surely to race cobbled classics he’s not got Pog’s feel for bike handling so wouldn’t transition quite as easily despite being on QuickStep.

    And either way – Remco’s a bull dozer, a lazer focused killing machine who WATTs you into oblivion! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to love him. Pogacar is the purer talent, he can do it all and with a smile. I suspect they will be the Messi & Ronaldo of cycling, and everyone know’s who’s the magician of those two!!

    I’m Team Pogacar all the way from now on.

  5. I hope in 2023 we get to see more of Vingegaard.
    Compared to some of the other favourites (Pogacar, Thomas, Evenepoel) he seems a bit of a shy, quiet guy. He also doesn’t have the special punch of some of the other big guns (Roglic, Carapaz, Ayuso, Alaphillipe) that makes them extra entertaining to watch. Or has (as of yet) those once-in-a-lifetime moments that makes us know he is extra special (Pidcock, Bernal, moste of the guys above).
    But there is something special about the guy, as seen when spearheading this coup.
    I would love for us to get to see more of the “character” Vingegaard.

  6. Vingegaard does not seem to have Pogacar’s kick for the line, but Pogacar’s problems on stage 11 in 2021 and stage 11 in 2022 were caused by teams (Ineos in 2021 & Jumbo 2022) riding hard before Vingegaard could drop Pogacar. It will be interesting to see what happens if the UAE train can dictate some stages. (I await Larry’s further comments about Vingegaard :))

  7. No doubt that day was the best stage racing day of the season. personally think it showed immaturity on Tadej Pogacer’s part, there was simply no need to go chasing after Primoz Roglic on the descent of the Telegraphe. Boring though it is the “correct” strategy is to conserve energy and wait. There is a limit to human physiology and Tadej Pogacer ran up against them , no “fuelling tactics” or fancy diets (even illegal methods) can push beyond those limits. On that day Jonas Vinegegaard especially and Geraint Thomas utilised their strengths better which turned around the narrative of the race.

    Must say I am not that enamoured of all the “star” worship much like the world cup was more than just about Lionel Messi & Kylan Mbappe bike racing is more than about a few star names, who knows a new name might ride into Paris in Yellow come July

  8. Hard to say if Pogacar’s woes were due to previous efforts in other stages. I’d dare to say ‘no’, given that if such was the case, he’d struggle again on the Alpe 24 hrs later – he wasn’t that brilliant, but he looked quite much better. Then, in St. Etienne his kick to the line kept him just behind a handful of pure power sprinters, and even ahead of some others. Not precisely what you’d expect if he had noticed that this attitude had harmed him so much. In fact, in Mende (still, no rest in between) he threw in an uberperformance again.
    So I’d guess that it was about *that day*, answering too many attacks and failing to at least partly keep things afloat when on top of that he didn’t get appropriate intake of energy/water. The sheer number of accelerations he had to produce before the finale was greater than his rival’s, whose level on this terrain was at least similar, even in equal conditions.

    I think that many commenters are underestimating the impact of teamwork. It’s not only about physical efforts but also cognitive contexts. JV put constantly Pogacar under pressure after the Galibier, which prevented him from correct feeding and drinking, as many observers had noticed on the spot: his JV rivals know perfectly if something is just about to happen or not, he doesn’t, so his attention goes mainly towards controlling the situation and being ready to react. When you’re racing under those conditions, you aren’t even aware that you’re forgetting to eat or drink, and sometimes, well, not matter how much they insist from the team car (which they’d better do all the same, just in case it works). It happened to Froome at vintage Sky, imagine at UAE.
    Same can be said with Roglic’s attacks or the need to try to break JV into pieces over the Galibier. Pogacar won’t just know soon enough if Roglic’s moves are a bluff or what, but surely if Roglic finds himself on the front with WVA with him and a long valley ahead, you, Pogacar, are probably losing the whole TDF all the same (who is going to pull behind?). Not only Vingegaard is going full gas “only” when he’s attacking, or Pogacar is, not when others are at it, but he’s also got the advantage of knowing in advance what’s the meaning of most of the moves, unlike Pogacar who must, before anything else, understand what’s happening exactly.

    However, as somebody was hinting above, this was quite probably the best TDF stage of the decade. I need to go back to 2011 to find something which *might* be better. And both Peyragudes and Hautacam were also extremely good. 2012 was terrible, 2013 had a couple of fine duels between Froome and the newbie Nairo but the situations were much simpler, and Quintana frankly still a bit too young; 2014 had the great Roubaux stage, then it was too much of a monologue; that couple of Alpine stages in 2015 was very good, but not as much as this 2022 highlight, I’d say; then 2016-2017-2018 were pretty much null, 2019 was entertaining but didn’t come close, 2020 had that ITT which was ok, but, hey, an ITT… 2021 had a generally great first half, this was rather the other way around, but obviously it’s better when it’s the second half which is great.
    Easily top five of this century (I mean, since 2000), always speaking of TDF stages of course.

    • “imagine at UAE” – I’m minded of Dan Martin’s comments on that team in his book. UAE seemed very old school, and not at all up to date with modern sports science. Martin had to ignore the team’s nutrition advice IIRC (don’t have book to hand) and do his own thing. So could easily imagine UAE doing something stupid with Pog and his nutrition during the tour.

    • 2019 was very fun, and could’ve been extraordinary if everything wouldn’t have vanished in two days, with the loss of Pinot and the two stages shortened due to meteo… I could have been one of the best Tour, with 5 or 6 potential winners after les Pyrénées… Alas !

    • 100% agree. Teamwork in cycling is crucial and in my very humble opinion cost Pogacar this tdf on this stage. Jumbo brought the second fastest rider plus A VERY dangerous batch of support riders.

      This was one of the most exciting Tours I’ve ever seen. And it made me love Pogacar even more than before. I can’t wait for 2023.

  9. From some of the comments above:- You must acknowledge just how good Vingegaard really is, same as Pogacar evidently does.
    – Like on Stage 18, Spandelles descent where they effectively called truce after Pogacar had a low speed washout of a crash and happily accepted Vingegaard’s hand signal to knock it off.
    Or Vingegaard dropping Pogacar and so nearly getting across to the lead pair over the top of Ventoux in 21.

    Vingegaard doesn’t have to be a hot personality. This guy worked shifts in a fish processing factory to follow his dream and has become The One who beat Pogacar; the most entertaining and able rider who otherwise would easily have cleaned up another Tour.

    We are in a special time with so many great riders.

    • We can also give Vinegaard time. His team mate Roglič was very stiff with the media for a long time (and he’d been going on Slovenian TV since his teenage ski jumper days) before finding his way to handle things and now seems quite jovial in every interview.

    • I agree with you re: personality (maybe it just isn’t being filtered through, and you can have great personality on the bike and not in front of a camera or tape recorder, cfr. the recently discussed Ullrich). That said, it’s pretty much clear, for now, that Vingegaard is essentially a key part of a team which currently looks crucial for his bigger result, not only because of the team play which won the game, but also because that team quite evidently nailed a great prep in the 2022 season, with general athletic overperforming through so many of their riders. Besides, it doesn’t help him, for now, that he isn’t shining as much away from the TDF, and he’s got the “bad luck”, in image terms, that right now so many among his rivals or other cycling champions are exploring in a competitive way the whole range of races which the season can offer (in a sense, it’s good luck, so they maybe can’t optimise TDF as much as him?). Stress on “for now”, and let me also add that the guy is far from being an early Froomey. He looked good, damn fine or at least decent on several occasions away from the Tour (and I believe he clocked in a perfect traditional form honing at the Dauphiné), but he was just so very far from the level he then hit for the TDF that the contrast is striking and brings memories of other generations, whose calendar choice weren’t really so exciting… (while the likes of Contador or Quintana, even Bernal, were able to show winning glimpse of their class from March to late September, not to speak of Nibali… or Pogacar himself). No doping innuendo here, I mean, one could say pretty much the same about, say, Evans, who with a couple of notable exceptions tended to seriously underperform at the end of the season, even in races which could fit him perfectly. It’s just that obviously a rider impresses much when he can shine more often through the season (which maybe Vingegaard will be able to do in the near future).

    • Hopefully I noted that currently Vingegaard has bested Pog on three crucial mountain stages in the last two tours so it’s fair to say he might be a better climber on a particular sort of climb and Pog’s going to have to work hard to beat him.

      I still prefer Pog’s riding and racing any day of the week though!

  10. It was a fun stage to watch, but Pogacar seemed a bit overconfident even then, on the Galibier. He might have let Roglic go, as PR had already lost 2-3 minutes by then and seemed a notch below Vingegaard. He might have let Kamna take yellow on the previous day and rested his team. I guess it’s a learning process.

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