As ever, the roster, at the start of the 2021 tour was stacked! As well as defending champion Tadej Pogacar, two time winner of the Vuelta a Espana, and former Tour de France runner up, Primoz Roglic was looking in good form ahead of the tour, fresh from winning the points classification at the 2021 Paris – Nice. Team Ineos – Granadiers were also fielding a strong team, with Richard Carapaz, Richie Porte, and former yellow jersey winner Geriant Thomas all considered strong contenders for the title. Add into the mix, some of the biggest names from the world of cycle-cross and one day classics, such as Wout Van Aert and Matthieu Van Der Poel, and home favourites including Julian Alaphilippe, and what you’re left with is a race that was sure to shock, excite, and throw up at least a few surprise results.
Unfortunately, for the points classification, defending green jersey champion Sam Bennett had to withdraw just days before the 2021 tour due to injury. This not only sparked the opportunity for perhaps a new champion, but also opened the door for two Tour de France legends, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, to come and take another bite of the apple.
Stage 1 of this year’s tour was, sadly, not without incident. There were two major crashes on the route between Brest to Landerneau, both of which caused severe disruption to the race.
The first came with 45 km to go, when an overzealous fan, holding up a placard, and leaning into the road, in efforts to be featured on television, sparked a mass pile up. Jumbo-Visma rider Tony Martin was sent tumbling, in efforts to avoid the woman, And, as he was near the front of the main bunch, caused chaos behind him, with around 50 bikes and riders being strewn across the asphalt.
At the end of the stage, race organisers condemned the woman’s behavior.
After 25 kilometres, the somewhat battered and bruised peloton came together once again. Then, just 7.5 km from the finish, there was another mass crash. This time Chris Froome, Marc Haller, and Andre Greipel were among those to lose out badly, while Alaphilippe, Van Aert, Roglic, and Pogacar, got through the crash fairly unscathed, and were able to continue their campaigns.
With 2.3km to go, Alaphilippe attacked. Although chased by Roglic, Pogacar and Latour, he was able to extend his lead, and claim the first stage of the 2021 Tour de France. Michael Matthews won the sprint for second place, while Primoz Roglic finished in third. For the third Tour in a row, home crowd favourite Alaphilippe had claimed yellow in the opening days of the tour.
Stage 2 of the tour, and already a lot of the pre-race favourites and big hitters had a lot of catching up to do, following the previous day’s drama. Richie Porte (Ineos) lost 2:16, Simon Yates lost 3:17 and Alejandro Valverde lost 5:33. Despite doubts over whether he could continue, 4 time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, was ready and raring to go at the start of a second stage that included two ascents of the infamous climb, Mur-de-Bretagne.
It was Dutch rider, Mattieu Van Der Poel who took the win on the day. The 26 year old pointed to the sky, as he crossed the line, claiming his win in honour of his late grandfather Raymond Poulidor. Tour great Poulidor was known, in the cycling world as the ‘eternal second’. He finished second in the tour three times and third on five occasions. Despite his success, and 14 years of racing the event, he never wore yellow; making his Grandson’s stage victory even sweeter.
He attacked with clinical precision on both ascents of the Mur-de-Bretagne. Going all out for his chance to wear yellow, he claimed the 8 second time bonus the first time round, and took 26 seconds off Geriant Thomas’s chasing group over the line.
Defending champion Tadej Pogacar and his compatriot, and 2020 runner up) Primoz Roglic, were second and third, at the end of the 183.5 km route. Stage 2 left Van Der Poel in yellow with Alaphilippe 8 seconds behind. Pogacar and Roglic took 4th and 5th (just 1 second apart), while Wilco Kelderman of Bora-Hansgrohe finished off the top 5, 24 seconds off the pace.
Stage 3 was once again a dramatic stage, punctuated with several crashes. Geriant Thomas’s tour looked almost over after a heavy fall and dislocated shoulder inside the first 50 km of the stage. However, Jumbo’s-Visma’s Robert Gesink was not so lucky, being forced to abandon after the same crash.
In the KOM competition, Ide Schelling was able to take hold of the yellow jersey after his solo effort to the top of the iconic Cadoudal, after which he sat up and waited to be swept in by the peloton. Several crashes happened on the narrow roads leading to the end of the stage. With 12 km to go a large crash split the peloton, leaving Lopez, Gaudu, Madouas and Cavendish, among others, chasing behind. Both last year’s winner, Pogacar, and runner up, Roglic, fell in the later stages of the race as well, causing a massive shake up in the GC standings (although Van der Poel retained yellow).
Van der Poel himself powered to the finish in the final kilometre of the stage, providing the perfect lead out for team mates Merlier and Philipsen. Behind them, Caleb Ewan and, 7 time green jersey champion, Peter Sagan collided, just yards from the finish, leaving the road clear for Merlier to claim the first sprinter’s stage of the tour (just as he did at the 2021 Giro).
The stage finished with a Belgian/ Alpecin – Fenix 1 – 2 from Merlier and Philipsen, while Van der Poel’s 7th place finish was enough for him to hold on to Yellow for another day.
Unfortunately, Ewan’s collision with Sagan resulted in a broken collarbone, and the end of the tour for the Australian rider. At the top of the GC, Pogacar and Roglic both suffered heavy time losses, with the former dropping out of the top 5 and Roglic (who lost 1:20) plummeting all the way to 20th position. Richard Carapaz is now the highest ranked GC contender, in 3rd, at 31 seconds behind, while home favourite Julian Alaphilippe moved into 2nd, just 8 seconds off the lead.
Cav is back! While we were, understandably, devastated that Irish cycling hero Sam Bennett was unable to defend his Green Jersey from 2020, it was great to see the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish back to his best, at the 2021 Tour de France. The 36 year old rider was able to claim the stage win, on stage four of the tour, between Redon and Fougeres, and in so doing took the 31st Tour de Frtance stage win of his long career. The Deceuninck–Quick-Step rider has been plagued with injury and illness over the last few years. His 11th hour inclusion in the Tour de France squad was probably as much of a surprise to him as it was to the rest of the world. It has been some 3 years since Cavendish last completed the tour and some 5 years since his last Tour de France stage victory with Deceuninck-QuickStep, back in 2015. Indeed on 28th June, Cav tweeted,“Nervous today for some reason….”
But, whatever the reason, the nerves didn’t seem to affect his performance. He charged across the line, finishing a full bike-length ahead of his closest rival, Jasper Philipsen, at Fougères. In the
The first time trial of the Tour did not come until stage 5. Now it was time for defending champion, Tadej Pogacar to shine. The Slovenian star followed up on his incredible performance in the final time trial of the 2020 Tour, tearing up the 27.2 km course at an average speed over 51 km/ hour. Mathieu van der Poel was able to do enough to hold onto his yellow jersey for another day. He put in an admirable effort and finished in 5th place for the stage just 31 seconds behind the UAE – Emirates rider. Pogacar, the red hot pre-race favourite was however able to gain a lot of time, and at the end of the day finished just 8 seconds down on the Dutch cyclist’s leading time.
Pogacar also seemed pleased with the day’s results.
Stage 6 was another one for the sprinters, and another time for the Manx Missile to fly. Châteauroux was the city that hosted Mark Cavendish’s first Tour de France stage win, some 13 years ago. This very same city that hosted the finale of stage 6 on June 1st. Already in green, following his heroic efforts from earlier in the week, Cavendish once again stormed past Philipsen and his team mate Tim Merlier, to claim his second stage of the 2021 Tour de France. Nacer Bouhanni of Team Arkea-Samsic finished in third.
This win is Mark Cavndish’s 50th Grand Tour stage victory and 32nd at the Tour de France, leaving him agonizingly close to Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stages.
Could 2021 bring Mark Cavendish just the second green jersey of his illustrious career? Only time will tell.
Stage 7 saw the peloton take on a grueling and hilly 249 km profile on the eve of Alpine weekend. The stage was offensive right from the off. The average speed over the first 40 km was a blistering 55 km/h despite slight head winds, and the attacks just kept on coming. By 40 km in a 29-man front group had formed. With 88 km to go UAE Team Emirates, the team of Pogacar, took control of the peloton. However, it was fellow Slovakian and Bahrain Victorious rider Matej Mohoric who claimed the first Tour de France stage win of his career at Le Creusot. He performed an heroic solo effort to Signal d’Uchon 19 km from the line. He crossed the line 1:20 ahead of Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo, the only other rider from the break away who managed to avoid being swept up by the chasing pack.
Elsewhere in the peloton Roglič, who was clearly still suffering from the injuries sustained from his crash on stage 3, was dropped on the climb to Signal d’Uchon. Finishing almost four minutes down on the group of favourites, it was a hard blow for the world number 1 ranking rider, who now looks well out of the running for the yellow jersey.
The first day in the Alps saw a huge shake up in the rankings. Geriant Thomas and Primoz Roglic lost yet more time, with the former being dropped on an un-categorized early on, and the latter soon joining him in a group that finished more than 30 minutes behind. Mattieu Van Der Poel’s dream week came to an abrupt halt, as a dominant display by defending champion Tadej Pogacar saw him finish fourth on the stage and leap into first place in the general qualification. By the end of the stage, he was placed 1:48 ahead of closest rival Wout Van Aert, of team Jumbo-Visma.
The appalling conditions and aggressive riding that characterized the day lead to high drama.
The days climbs began with the Côte de Mont-Saxonnex. A short but sharp 5.7 km climb with an average gradient of 8.3 per cent. At the top it was Poels who surged to take the maximum points for the KOM division. The next test of the day was the Col de Romme. Coming in with less than 40 km to go, this was a tougher challenge with 8.8km averaging 8.9 per cent. Michael Woods of Israel Start-up Nation attacked on this climb. The Canadian rider quickly caught up Andersen, before leaving him swiftly behind. However, on the final climb of the day, the legendary Col de la Colombière (7.5km at 8.5 per cent), Woods began to fade. Teuns then emerged as the strongest chaser, closing in on Woods with just under 3km to go to the summit. Pogačar was also on the chase, and had closed to within two minutes.
Then, in the final kilometre of the Colombière, Teuns broke away from Woods, eventually winning the stage 44 seconds ahead of closest rival Ion Izagirre Insausti of Astana-Premier. Pogacar finished just 49 seconds behind, claiming the yellow jersey for the first time in 2021, and laying down a serious statement of intent for the rest of the tour.
The final stage before the first rest day of the 2021 tour was another wet day in the Alps, as the peloton made their way between Clunes and Tignes. Both Primoz Roglic (who had suffered badly from crashes early on in the tour) and Matthieu Van Der Poel (who lost the yellow jersey on Stage 8) were non starters, with Van der Poel abandoning the tour to focus on the forthcoming Olympic Games. Stage 9 saw a very early split in the peloton with a group of 43 riders breaking away from the general classification contenders. A group of six riders, including Australian rider O’Connor pushed the pace on the first category-one climbs, where polka dot jersey wearer Wout Poels was able to beat Quintana to the top of the Col des Saisies.
Quintana did however reach the top of the Col du Pré and Cormet de Roselend first, taking the lead in the KOM standings in the process. O’Connor eventually attacked, at the start of the climb up to Tignes. The young Australian pushed the pace so much that he finished the day in second in the general standings, despite starting the day 8:13 behind the yellow jersey. O’Connor claimed his first Tour de France stage win by a margin of over five minutes. Although Carapaz (Inneos Granadiers) attacked, Pogacar quickly responded, eventually finishing some 32 seconds ahead of his Colombian rival, to further extend his lead in the general classification.
In the green jersey contest, Mark Cavendish was simply happy to hold on. The 36 year old, who has proved himself somewhat of a come-back-king this year so far, struggled to overcome the punishing Alpine climbs and finished the day 35:49 behind the winner. Not his best day in the saddle, but crucially he finished 97 seconds inside the cut off time, thus avoided being cut from the tour. The very relieved Manx rider now just hopes to survive the remaining mountainous stages. He has his eyes firmly set on the Parisian finale of the tour. A stage which he has previously won on four occasions.
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