and for the racers.
What seemed like a very close race ended up with some of the biggest time gaps in the top 10 we’ve seen in years as two racers went head to head day in and day out but neither ended up the MVP.
The Tour started on a high, amongst huge crowds in Denmark, which brought back memories of Yorkshire in 2014 and made France look quite empty at times, especially in built up areas, once they’d travelled back.
Even though the winds they kept promising in Denmark never really came to anything, those crowds helped make it a spectacle, along with the like likes of Magnus Cort’s breakaway battle for his single KoM points on the “climbs”.
The Wout van Aert show started in Denmark, with three consecutive second places but took off with his victory in the first stage back in France, that saw him take the yellow jersey. And from there with another two stage victories, the highest ever green point tally, nearly the polka dot jersey, the Combativity prize for countless days in the break, and super domestique work saving the race for his team leader, ride all other GC racers off their wheel. The Dutchman became the face of the race even though two others were battling it out for overall victory.
Would Vingegaard have won if not for Wout?
In that horror day for his team, he dropped back to pilot Vingegaard to stay in GC contention on the cobbled stage, 6, after himself crashing. Without that effort where would the Dane have finished up? What with carnage all around and Roglic down with a dislocated shoulder.
He lost the yellow jersey the following day, with Pogacar’s sprint to win stage 7. The following day the Slovenian rider won in yellow with victory on the first summit finish of the Tour, La Planche des Belles Filles crossing the line just ahead of Vingegaard. It looked like the Dane had the beating of the reigning champion, but that final sprint by Pogacar and the way Vingegaard’s head dropped as he crossed the line, it looked like Pog was invincible. He picked up another four bonuses seconds the following day with a third place, to van Aert’s victory. That unfortunately saw Britain’s Fred Wright caught just before the end.
It took until the first day into the high mountains of the Alps for things to change dramatically. As Jumbo repeatedly attacked Pogacar, early in the stage, one-twos from Roglic and Vingegaard. Pogacar chased them all down, seemingly loving the challenge as he mugged for the camera. But in the end it took its toll, as Vingergaard won the stage, while Pogacar was passed by those behind him to finish seventh, losing over two minutes. He was even down to third on GC. Is this where he really lost the race? Talk of the heat and him not eating enough but did he really need to chase down Roglic, who was still suffering from putting in his own dislocated shoulder, on the side of the road. Pog wasn’t to know his fellow Slovenian would shortly withdraw, but he was behind and didn’t quite look the Roglic of old.
But Pogacar just wants to race and it provided one of the enduring highlights and high points of a Tour full of both.
Still the leading young rider, Pogacar took to the podium in his white jersey, raised his arms and celebrated with a huge smile on his face. While others would have taken losing the yellow jersey badly, the young Slovenian, after his first showing of weakness in three years, still stood proud and happy.
His smiling congratulations to Vingegaard at the finish line on this stage, and others, along with the sportsmanship between the pair – more later – added to the good feeling of this Tour.
The following day was the Queen stage of the Alps, finishing on Alpe d’Huez. And a hell of a stage for a young Brit. Tom Pidcock in his first Grand Tour, lit the stage up with a dashing attack, off the peloton on the Galibier, Pidcock’s descent was a masterclass – even if he came close to that wall – how many times do you see someone fly past another rider, on the outside on a bend without pedalling?
British cycling new met old, 22 year old Pidcock joined up with 37 year old Chris Froome – who had also attacked on the climb. It was great to see the multiple Tour winner back out front. It looked like it would never return for him after his horror crash, three years ago. But as with most races these days it was one for the youth, as Pidcock attacked the breakaway on the final climb with just over 10km to go and soloed through the crowds on the hairpins to a great victory. His first World Tour win, becoming the youngest rider to win on Alpe d’Huez.
It doesn’t seem two minutes ago we saw him soloing to victory in the Tour Series crit around Durham, where needing a bike change, he jumped of his old on and onto the new one without stopping.
Froome came in third, it was a great ride and showed there’s still life in the old dog yet, though he had to withdraw in the third week due to Covid. Another old dog was up to third. 2018 winner Geraint Thomas. It where he would stealthily stay for the rest of the Tour. A podium place that he may have been confident of but others, including his team, weren’t. You don’t know how good a Tour Ineos had. A third place, two in the top 10, Pidcock’s victory and top 20 spot – after spending the best part of the first week in the top 10 – and the team prize, won by over half an hour. Is all good. But Yates and Martinez faltered – both having chest infections – while world Champion Filippo Ganna finished fourth and fifth in the two time trials. And while they were one of the few teams to finish with all 8 riders, their support riders disappeared quite quickly, while stints in the breakaways didn’t amount to much in the end.
G though was by far the best of the rest of the GC contenders. The only one within 10 minutes of the top two but with his grinding style, he just couldn’t keep up with the punchy attacks of Pogacar and Vingegaard. But that’s what got him the podium place, his grinding consistency. While those behind him would at times attack, they either couldn’t keep it up or they gained some seconds, only to lose more the following day as they couldn’t back it up.
Pogacar’s team had been much maligned but did an amazing job, leading over the climbs in the first big day in the Pyrenees, to Peyragudes, where Pog took the victory but Vingegaard was right on his wheel. It looked like a glorious bit of bluffing by Pog on that final ramp of the climb.
But the following day the yellow jersey was all but sealed for the Dane as Wout van Aert powered him up Hautacam and away from Pogacar, to open up a lead of more than three minutes. It could have been so different earlier in the stage that first saw Vingegaard wobble and nearly go over, under pressure from Pgacar’s attack off the front but then saw the Slovenian taking a corner a bit too hot and hitting some gravel. With ripped shorts and obvious cuts he rode on to see the yellow jersey waiting for him. Offering a hand Pog then put his thumb up.
It epitomised this whole Tour. All action with the deepest of respect.
As ever Pogacar didn’t act like a beaten man, in demeanour after the stage, or on the road, where he kept attacking at any opportunity – with a smile on his face. Even on the flat. But the time trial sealed it, though in not taking that easy, even with a lead of nearly three and a half minutes, Vingegaard had a scare near the end that could have changed the whole outcome. He rolled in a bit more calmly and still picked up second spot, losing by just 19 seconds, to van Aert, even with that noticeable slowdown.
Pgacar said the best rider, Vingegaard, had won and that he’d lost in the best way possible and that made it the best race for a long time… and we haven’t even touched on a whole lot more that went on.
A new Tour. A Tour for racers.
Of course some of it was spoiled by idiots in the road and Ned Boulting’s constant wittering. How many times does he correct himself in the same breath. That pretentious over pronunciation of names, riders and places. And the pair of ’em missing so much that’s a couple of feet away from them on a huge screen. It took them weeks to work out van Aert does it differently when not wearing his skin suit – which neither of them noticed on the final stage and so were surprised when he didn’t feature in the sprint. They didn’t see Quintana pushing off the motorbike, nor Vingegaard’s injuries to his elbow and knee before the final time trial – was that ever explained? Then you have Rendell stuttering his way through something no one was talking about, while oozing over a Colombian who was doing nothing.