Tour de France 2022: Tadej Pogacar takes time from Jumbo-Visma rivals on cobbles of chaotic stage 5

Australian rider Simon Clarke celebrates winning his first Tour de France stage

The 2022 Tour de France exploded to life on the bone-shuddering cobbles of northern France, and when the dust clouds finally settled on a chaotic stage five, won by Australia’s Simon Clarke, reigning champion Tadej Pogacar was the day’s great beneficiary in the fight for the yellow jersey.

Pogacar’s key rivals, the all-powerful Team Jumbo-Visma, suffered disastrous luck which dented the ambitions of 2021 runner-up Jonas Vingegaard and all but destroyed the hopes of 2020 runner-up Primoz Roglic.

There must have been terse words in the Jumbo-Visma team car as first Vingegaard suffered a puncture which left him briefly, comically riding a bike far too big as he sought to recover, before Roglic was taken out by a rogue hay bale lying in the road – it was later confirmed he suffered a dislocated shoulder which had to be popped back in. The only solace for the Belgian team was that Wout van Aert retained the yellow jersey despite selflessly slowing to help Vingegaard rejoin the chasing pack.

In the end Van Aert and the Jumbo-Visma hareem of super-talented domestiques salvaged Vingegaard’s day, finishing as a group with Ineos’s Geraint Thomas 1 min 04 sec behind stage winner Clarke and only 15 seconds behind Pogacar, having been almost two minutes back at one point late in the day. Roglic, though, did lose two minutes and his challenge might be over before it really begins.

Primoz Roglic on the road after a crash near the end of stage five

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After a relatively sedate three-stage jaunt through Denmark and a first day back in France won by Van Aert in Calais, stage five was always likely to be the first of major significance for the general classification contenders. Not everyone believes cobblestones have a place in the Tour de France given their penchant for spreading misery in such unpredictable and uneven ways, but they always deliver drama of some kind and this compelling race was no exception.

The 157km route from Lille to Arenberg Port du Hainaut contained 11 sectors of demanding and sometimes dangerous pavé, but ironically most of the day’s major incidents occured around the fringes of these cobbled stretches as dusty tyres suddenly transitioned onto slick asphalt road. An air of edginess in the peloton no doubt contributed to some of the bumps and scrapes as riders jostled for the safety of the front, and the harsh cobbles themselves inflicted several punctures.

An early breakaway of three became six, featuring the polka dot jersey of Magnus Cort as well as eventual winner Clarke, and they built a lead of around three minutes from the peloton. Behind them there were early crashes, one of which involved the yellow jersey of Van Aert after a concertinaing bunch hid a raised reservation in the road until it was too late. He briefly held his right shoulder where some of his yellow jersey was ripped before rejoining the main group with the help of teammate Steven Kruijswijk.

Peter Sagan also suffered a crash while Australian podium contender Ben O’Connor stopped for a puncture and took a teammate’s bike as his Ag2R team battled to get him back into the main pack, though oddly only three riders came to his aid and he eventually lost two minutes to Pogacar.

The pack kicks up dust on the cobbles of northern France

The constant incidents combined with a high pace meant those who suffered bad luck invariably got left behind and had a hard time catching up. The peloton and team cars whipped up a thick orange soot which filled the air along the cobbled stretches, limiting visibility and forcing riders to trust their own racing instincts and a little blind faith. Team soigners waited at the end of each section waving bidons and spare tyres at flagging riders like men with something to sell.

Pogacar was one of the few who avoided trouble, despite his ailing teammates being nowhere in support. The Slovenian prodigy, going for his third Tour de France in a row, latched on to Jumbo-Visma for a while and then Ineos before cutting loose with the help of Trek-Segafredo’s Jasper Stuyven once he heard of Jumbo’s struggles. Credit to Kruijswijk, Van Aert and the other Jumbo riders who helped drag Vingegaard to the line and limit the damage.

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Up ahead, the breakawayers held off the Stuyven-Pogacar charge and the group eventually distilled down to a fight between Clarke and Dutch rider Taco van der Hoorn in a sprint finish. Van der Hoorn went a fraction too soon and was almost going backwards by the time the line approached, as Clarke lunged to win a brutal stage by the width of a tyre.

It was his first Tour de France stage victory at the age of 35, and the popular Israel-Premier Tech rider – who had no team at the start of the season – was emotional after the race. “After the winter I had, when I had no team, I think you’ve seen all year I’ve come in every race swinging and I just tried to make the most of every opportunity.

“The stages I’ve won in the Vuelta before were all in the first week, so this morning I thought ‘maybe today’s the day’. I can’t believe I got it on the line, Taco was well ahead, I was cramping in both legs and I just prayed it was enough. I need to watch the replay, I can’t quite believe it. I moved to Europe when I was 16, I’m 36 on the second rest day, so 20 years, and it’s a dream come true.”

Tadej Pogacar slumps on his handlebars after a brutal stage five

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Van Aert wil continue in yellow on Thursday for what is the longest stage of this year’s Tour, a hilly route which might suit the Belgian better than anyone, especially given that the usually masterful puncheur Mathieu van der Poel has struggled so much this week. Ineos have three British riders in the overall top 10 – Thomas, Adam Yates and Tom Pidcock – a few seconds behind Vingegaard. But the Dane is now 21 seconds behind Pogacar, who showed opportunism and racing nous as he grabbed pole position in this Tour, all before even setting eyes on the mountains he so loves to dominate.

“It was a really good day for me, I didn’t have any bad luck and I felt good on the cobbles,” said Pogacar, who has very little experience on the terrain. “I could not stay strong until the end, but I tried, but for sure it’s a confidence booster. I have good sensations.”

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