Jonathan Vaughters of EF Education-Nippo believes Tadej Pogacar’s early lead in this year’s Tour de France can be explained by the double factor of unusual weather conditions and chaotic, uncontrolled racing dynamics.
And Vaughters, the longtime USA team manager, said VeloNews that he disagreed with Pogacar coach’s suggestions that the other favorites in the overall standings had made mistakes in their preparations for the Tour.
Pogacar’s dominance was one of the landmark stories of this year’s tour. He won the individual time trial of stage 5 then moved away from his rivals for two days in the high mountains. He launched a 20-mile attack on a wet and cold Stage 8, putting rivals like Richard Carapaz and Rigoberto Uran in 3:20. Pogacar then added 32 seconds with another push on Stage 9.
The early aggression saw Pogacar lead the overall standings more than five minutes before stage 10 of the race, and he did not give up the lead.
“So far, Pogacar has proven to be the best rider in the race, and that’s it,” said Vaughters. VeloNews during a telephone call from the Tour. “However, I kind of dispute the claim that all the other teams have missed their preparation and that normally the riders go faster in the Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse or whatever. And that on stage 8, everyone was slow and that’s why Pogacar started. “
“There is a very valid reason why all the other contenders were at 5.8 W / kg [on the climbs]. Simply put, the race was so aggressive all day, as was the race as a whole on the flat, that by the time the peloton took the climbs they were done. This was further exacerbated by the wet conditions.
In a long interview with VeloNews, Pogacar coach Dr Iñigo San Millán pointed out the slower-than-expected climb speeds of the other competitors in stages 8 and 9. Vaughters acknowledges that riders such as Jonas Vingegaard (Team Jumbo-Visma), Carapaz ( Ineos Grenadiers) and his own team leader, ran (EF Education First), posted lower watts per kilogram than usual on the early climbs.
Vaughters said there was a logical reason for this.
“When you’re wet your core temperature is obviously lower,” he said. “With a lot of runners – not everyone, but with a lot of runners – you burn sugars and glycogen stores faster when you’re cold and wet, and it’s also more difficult to access fat or blood stores. fat. “
“What happens is that most of the time your ability – your turbo load – to go through the carbs because the fuel runs out much faster in a wet race than in a dry race. “
Pogacar is known for its high performance in such weather conditions. Vaughters said some riders in the peloton are able to withstand cold and humidity better than others.
“For example, the biggest rider on our team – actually I think he might be the biggest rider we’ve ever had on this team – Jonas Rutsch, who is a German neo-pro, climbed the first 30 in cold weather, which makes no sense [laughs] Vaughters said. “Well, I shouldn’t say that doesn’t make sense, but it was unexpected. And you could also see it in the ninth stage where Sonny Colbrelli finished third. “
“There are certainly runners who cope with the cold much better, just as there are runners who withstand the heat a lot better. Some pilots are really good at handling very high temperatures. “
Vaughters said these conditions help explain the rift between Pogacar and its competitors. Still, he believes there’s another factor that made the gap between them worse on Stage 8.
“What happened was people’s legs were broken as a result of a hyper-aggressive step that day,” Vaughters said. “This year there is no Ineos team or anything that controls the race and keeps it stable. The style is therefore much more jerky and it takes 80, 90, 100 km for the breakaway to finally gain the advantage. Due to this jerky style of running, it depletes glycogen stores much faster. “
“The combination of aggressive start / stop start / stop start / stop races, where people have to accelerate again and again and in cold weather, is probably a type of racing particularly suited to Pogacar. So what happens is he just doesn’t get tired, ”he added. “Everyone basically goes into their glycogen stores and then gets tired from the style of racing and the weather, when they are capable of being 100%. So his climb speeds did not drop while those of the others went down.
“A unique champion in a generation”
Dr San Millán has worked with the Garmin team at Vaughters in the past and joined the UAE team towards the end of 2018. Pogacar signed for the team around the same time, and both have worked together since then. The Spanish coach has said on several occasions that he thinks the rider is particularly gifted; it’s something Vaughters agrees with.
“I remember watching the finish in Liège-Bastogne-Liège. Before the runners finished, someone asked me, “Well, who do you think is going to win? I said, ‘I think Pogacar is going to win.’ They replied, “but Alaphilippe is a better sprinter. And I said, “… yeah, but Pogacar is a one-time champion in a generation,” Vaughters said. “I don’t know enough about him except that it seems like he really is a one-time talent in a generation. Now i can’t say that [for sure]… But he won in February and he won in March and he won in April. So it seems that he is a runner who, when he takes part in a big race, wins. “
“With this style of stop / go racing [in the Tour], maybe it’s just that he’s sort of a level above other runners. So so it doesn’t hurt him, it doesn’t particularly suit him, but he’s just better, ”he added.
Pogacar’s dominance has seen him come under some scrutiny from the media and fans of the sport. The difficult history of professional cycling means that questions like this are almost inevitable for anyone leading the battle for the GC du Tour, and especially if they are far ahead of their rivals. Being five minutes early at the end of Stage 9 brought up questions, which is why Dr. San Millán sought to clarify why he thought Pogačar was stronger.
He suggested that other teams had made mistakes in their accumulation; However, as Vaughters explained, he believes the weather and racing styles were the determining factors. He points out what happened when the temperatures were warmer and the races were less chaotic.
“When you get to a hot day, like the Ventoux, which was also a more stable day, as far as the race goes, then things were different. All of a sudden Pogacar wasn’t at his best [compared to others] Vaughters said. “Maybe if the temperatures rose to 40 degrees, maybe it was his Achilles heel. We’re not going to find out this year, with the weather. But maybe another year.
Data – to publish or not to publish?
The climb speeds debate has led to new calls for the release of rider power data. Dr San Millán said VeloNews that he fears that this will lead to little because he thinks that those who doubt the riders can in their turn doubt the figures.
Vaughters also has reservations about releasing data. The fact that he and Dr San Millán came to such different conclusions – despite their long experiences in sports – could give rise to even greater debate, if the potency figures were widely disseminated to the general public.
“Well, you have to know how to interpret the data,” Vaughters said. “Honestly, Iñigo is an expert in this matter and in my opinion he misinterpreted the data. So if we look at two people who are just looking at data, power data, and we actually disagree on the meaning of power data, then if you publish all the data, now you’re going to have 500 expert chairs. or 5,000 wheelchair experts disagree.
“I have no idea how a wider audience would interpret the data if it had just been published. I do not really know. But the climbing speeds are open and available to anyone interested, ”he added. ” [As for power data], I don’t really know if that would be positive or negative. It’s really hard to tell. “
Vaughters explained what he said he and Dr San Millán did differently in their assessment of the data. He said that in evaluating stroke, Dr San Millán appears to be looking primarily at shorter data segments, while he favors a broader approach.
“My interpretation is based on the race as a general. I don’t put as much emphasis on the 20-minute clips. So it’s a very different interpretation, ”Vaughters said. “For me what’s more interesting is what happens outside of the climbs, because with that it’s much more difficult to calculate the data or the power output on those flat sections. Because it depends if it’s a small road, if it’s a big road, if it’s a headwind, if it’s a side wind, if there are a lot of turns, if there is no there aren’t a lot of turns, etc.
“Anyway, to make it short, I don’t know if it’s [greater availability of numbers] would help or hurt. I mean, we have no problem publishing all the data we want to see. It’s just… I don’t know if that would help speculation or not, but there is certainly no secret about it, ”he added. “No one has ever asked me for Rigo’s data. “