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Lost Boys: The ‘nearly’ men

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Throughout this Tour de France, longtime cycling journalist John Wilcockson is writing about the riders who have to abandon the race: The Lost Boys. Today, he looks at the two riders who were forced to leave the race on the day of the Tour’s only time trial.

Unless a pro cyclist is exceptionally talented, like an Evenepoel, Pogačar or Vingegaard, making the step up from joining a WorldTour team to becoming one of its more prominent riders is exceptionally hard. And when a rider is good enough to be selected for the Tour de France, his progress can be even tougher.

That scenario perfectly fits the two young men who had to drop out of the Tour on Tuesday: Frenchman Alexis Renard and American Matteo

Both Renard and Jorgensen are aged 24, both are over 6 feet tall and both have big ambitions in the sport.

When Vingegaard crossed the TT finish line in Combloux on Tuesday in a time of 32:36, the data-driven calculations showed immediately that the 43:02 recorded by Renard put him in last place and that it was one second outside the stage’s cut-off time. That would have been a cruel way to end his Tour; but then it was revealed that Renard, who was 11 th of the 157 riders to start the TT, had crashed on one of the course’s first right turns.

His getting back on the bike and finishing the time trial was already an act of bravery—that’s why he recorded the slowest time. Then, while the stage was being played out over the next several hours, Renard had an x-ray, which showed he had broken his right elbow.

“It’s not the end of the Tour that I imagined,” he reported, “but that’s how life goes!”

Renard is one of those riders who not only rides selflessly for his team but also generates good spirits in the team bus—he loves playing the drums. And with his Cofidis squad having won its first two Tour stages in 15 years, there’d been plenty to celebrate.

This was only his second grand tour. He had previously raced the Vuelta in his rookie season, 2020, when he was riding for Israel Start-Up Nation, which had signed him after he won the French national amateur road title in 2019.

Still with the Israel team in 2021, Renard got a couple of second places in sprints (beaten by Mark Cavendish in one of them), and that was enough for Cofidis to offer him a two-year contract. His first year with the French team wasn’t great. He broke a collarbone in February and on his return to racing struggled for three months, with his only significant result being fifth place in a mass field sprint at a stage of the Four Days of Dunkirk.

Unhappy with his condition after he came in with last group at the French championships in June, Renard underwent some medical tests.

It turned out that he had an erratic heartbeat, arrhythmia, and needed surgery to remove one of his atria, which supplies blood to the heart. He didn’t race again last year, but this season he has finally shown signs of the qualities he displayed as an amateur.

He placed seventh at Gent–Wevelgem, winning the field sprint behind the main breakaway; and he was third on the toughest stage of the Dunkirk race when he out-kicked Belgians Brent Van Moer and Greg Van Avermaet, only five seconds behind the winner.

Those performances earned his team’s trust and a place on the Cofidis squad for the Tour.

Jorgenson surged to his Tour de France best with third

Matteo Jorgenson
Matteo Jorgenson finished third in stage 12. (Photo by ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images)

In contrast to Renard’s low profile in this Tour, Jorgensen has displayed his talents in three long breakaways, and he will be remembered as the “nearly man” for just falling short of winning stage 9 on the iconic Puy de Dôme.

Finally taking fourth that day and then finishing third on the Beaujolais stage gave us a hint of what the Idaho racer is capable of, and there would probably have been more chances for him in this final week.

But on Sunday, he was one of the casualties of the pileup caused by a selfie-taking spectator as stage 15 was taking shape. He took a bang and ended the stage the last of the remaining five Movistar Team riders, a half hour down, at the back of a sprinters’ gruppetto.

Knowing that something was wrong, Jorgensen had an ultrasound on Monday and reported: “[It] confirmed what I thought … my right hamstring has a very similar tear to my left leg after a crash in Paris–Nice last year.”

He also had a saddle sore, so he did not start the time trial. His team tweeted: “Thanks for your efforts, mate.”

Leaving the Tour was a huge disappointment, but Jorgensen can look back on what has been a breakthrough season after he reassessed his career last winter. He detailed his beliefs on Twitter, writing: “Perhaps the most important thing I’ve done in the last 4 years is gone really deep, sometimes into deep fatigue holes, and then more importantly, rested until I was out of
them. [In] 2021 I went extremely deep in the spring and had an absolutely horrendous Giro where I barely made it to the finish each day. In 2022 the Tour de France served as a giant stimulus that took me until December to recover from.”

He then revealed his off-season preparations: “In January I spent almost the entire month alone in an altitude hotel. I hired a nutritionist and have weighed and logged every gram of food I’ve eaten to make sure I’m always at race weight.”

That race weight is close to 140 pounds, which gives this 6-foot-3 athlete a high power-to-weight ratio that’s essential in pro cycling today.

Knowing himself better than ever, Jorgensen showed astounding climbing form this year. He won the Tour of Oman in February thanks to first and second places on the two mountaintop stage finishes. He was eighth overall at Paris–Nice, including fifth on the decisive final stage, beaten only by Pogačar, Vingegaard, David Gaudu and Simon Yates.

At the spring classics, he was fourth at the E3 Saxo Classic (behind Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and Pogačar) and ninth in the Tour of Flanders. And he was second overall behind Adam Yates at the Tour de Romandie after placing fifth in the mountaintop stage finish and second in the longest time trial.

Summing up these impressive four months, the American stated: “It’s all paid off.”

Perhaps they dug too deep a hole at this Tour, but watch out for Renard and Jorgensen in the years (and Tours) to come.

Stage 1: Enric Mas (Movistar Team), DNF
Stage 2: Richard Carapaz (EF Education-EasyPost), DNS
Stage 5: Jacopo Guarnieri (Lotto-Dstny), DNS; Luis León Sánchez (Astana Qazaqstan), DNS
Stage 8: Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan), DNF; Steff Cras (TotalEnergies), DNF
Stage 9: Quinn Simmons (Lidl-Trek), DNS
Stage 12: Fabio Jakobsen (Soudal-Quick Step), DNS; David de la Cruz (Astana Qazaqstan),
Stage 13: Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Dstny), DNF; Ben Turner (INEOS Grenadiers), DNF
Stage 14: Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), DNF; Antonio Pedrero (Movistar),
DNF; Esteban Chaves (EF Education-EasyPost), DNF; Ramon Sinkeldam (Alpecin-
Deceuninck), DNF; Ruben Guerreiro (Movistar), DNF; Romain Bardet (DSM Firmenich),
DNF; James Shaw (EF Education-EasyPost), DNF
Stage 15: Dani Martínez (INEOS Grenadiers), DNS
Stage 16: Matteo Jorgensen (DNS); Alexis Renard (OTL)

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