Jai Hindley Rips Open The Tour de France
5:07 PM EDT on July 5, 2023
Stage 5 of the 2023 Tour de France seemed like the race's first obvious day for the breakaway to get on the board, so it was no surprise then that the fight to establish the day's break was both fierce from the outset and so tightly controlled by the big dogs of the peloton. Not today, Neilson Powless, said Jumbo-Visma. Fred Wright, get your country ass back here, UAE insisted. The peloton's job is to reel in any breakaway that is either too big, too small, or too full of threatening riders, and it took a long time for such a move to form. It turned out to be quite a shock then that once it did form, the break contained Jai Hindley, the third-most highly regarded general classification rider.
Giving Hindley alone a three-minute leash would have been a confusing and unnecessary bit of brinksmanship from the two teams in control of the Tour, with Jonas Vingegaard's Jumbo-Visma shrugging their shoulders and daring Tadej Pogacar's UAE team to let Hindley walk or do all of the work, but Hindley also had two of his most capable lieutenants, Patrick Konrad and Emmanuel Buchmann, to help make the move stick. And stick it did, as Hindley put forth the strongest opening statement from any of the contenders when he escaped on the final climb and rode solo into Laruns to claim the yellow jersey and put 47 seconds into Vingegaard. The first mountain stage of a wild Tour was marked less by Vingegaard dueling with Pogacar and more the emergence of a third contender, and maybe even a fourth, as Giulio Ciccone was also allowed to join the GC podium. The racing will only get better from here.
Hindley himself was surprised at his rivals' joint tactical mishap. "I have no words; I cannot believe what happened," he said after the stage. "I was surprised when I was part of the break, and the bunch didn’t really react. We decided to start working in the group and just have fun." In Jumbo-Visma's defense, letting Hindley and Ciccone fly was the price for destroying UAE. They had Wout van Aert, Tiesj Benoot, and Christophe Laporte in the break too, so the potential for a stage win and having a few helpers up the road to support anything Vingegaard did was enough for Vingegaard and Sepp Kuss to sit up and make UAE burn every match they had keeping by Hindley in range.
It worked to perfection, and by the time they reached the business end of the Col de Marie Blanque (where, coincidentally, Pogacar earned his first-ever Tour stage win back in 2020), they had isolated Pogacar and were prepared to turn the screws on him. Kuss set a wicked tempo and shredded every remaining GC contender save Pogacar, and when Vingegaard leapt away near the same spot Hindley dropped Felix Gall minutes earlier, Pogacar couldn't match him. Buchmann and Ciccone hitched a ride with Vingegaard as he alone was responsible for limiting the gap to Hindley, and while they burnt the Dane in the sprint for bonus seconds, Vingegaard pulled back 20 seconds on Hindley and smoked Pogacar by a minute. He now has 53 seconds on his most feared rival after one mountain stage, and all it cost him was 25 kilometers of going solo and the ascension of Hindley and Ciccone.
Will it all turn out to have been worth it? Despite the mixed bag today, this was easily Jumbo's strongest day out so far. They looked nervous and overconfident through the first four stages, with Pogacar slipping away from Vingegaard on Stage 1, van Aert publicly melting down and throwing a tantrum one day later, and Jasper Philipsen snatching the first two sprint stages in convincing fashion. But they are built specifically to overwhelm Pogacar in the mountains, and they shone in that regard on Stage 5. Vingegaard said he wanted to test Pogacar, who hadn't raced since April after breaking his wrist, and that he was surprised to have opened up such a big gap. The defending champ won the first battle with Pogacar, who admitted he got exposed but also expressed confidence, saying, "I think it’s going to be OK. It’s still a long way, I feel OK, that’s the more important thing."
The first summit finish of the Tour looms on Stage 6, and it comes at a perfect moment. Hindley's Bora-Hansgrohe team will theoretically be responsible for pulling their weight to defend the jersey and Ciccone's Lidl-Trek team will probably shift their priorities a bit, but Jumbo and UAE are still the big dogs. Can Pogacar strike back or at least prove that he should be feared for two more weeks? Can Hindley hang on against what will surely be an onslaught of pressure tomorrow? The first five stages of the year's Tour have been as thrilling as any in recent memory, and all the shaky gains will truly be tested for the first time on the slopes of the Tourmalet and the Col d'Aspin.