TOUR BREAKDOWN: The first full week of the 2021 Tour de France followed on from the madness of the opening weekend. Spencer Martin gives us his second ‘Tour Breakdown’ – Who is hot = Tagej Pogačar, and who isn’t?
The second weekend of the 2021 Tour de France continued the all-out racing we saw in the event’s first week and showed us that during this Tour, it is never safe to turn away from the TV. Saturday served up one of the most stunning performances in the race’s 118-year-old history when Tadej Pogačar went beast-mode to nearly overtake every rider in the breakaway, that had over a seven minutes gap, to potentially win the overall with a single attack, while Sunday gave us a massive swing of fortunes when Ben O’Connor, who had lost time in the first week, fought his way into the early breakaway to jump thirteen spots in the general classification and now sits second place overall with a comfortable three-minute gap to Rigoberto Uran in third place.
And adding further to the drama and interest was that we had subplot battles for both the KOM and Points jerseys shaping the stage, with Nairo Quintana and Sonny Colbrelli, animated the early portion of Sunday’s stage by getting into and driving the early breakaway to pick up maximum points in their respective competitions. Quintana was rewarded with his efforts with the Polka Dot KOM jersey after the stage and Colbrelli’s shocking third place on stage 9 saw him head into the first rest day in striking distance of Mark Cavendish’s Green Jersey.
Is Cavendish’s green jersey safe?
1) Pogačar puts in one not only of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a grand tour, but that I’ve ever seen on a bike, period. It was up there with Marco Pantini’s attack on stage 15 of the 1998 Tour de France, Lance Armstrong at Sestriere on stage 9 of the 1999 Tour, and Chris Froome’s attack on stage 8 of the 2013 Tour at Ax-3 Domaines.
- But unlike those examples, he didn’t win the stage, which is the only possible blemish on this performance.
- With the time gaps being so large over such a large distance, you could argue that it was more impressive than anything Froome or Armstrong ever accomplished.
Ineos watching Pogačar
2) On Sunday, Ineos carefully set up chess pieces all over the board but Pogačar flipped over the board, smashed the pieces, and blew the entire thing up.
- This is a great example that team strength is highly irrelevant on major, set-piece stages, and simply being the strongest individual rider is the best way to win the Tour de France.
- This should go a long way to undo the ‘Sky Myth’ that told us they won the Tour due to their team and detail-oriented setup. In retrospect, they won those Tours because they had the strongest rider in each race.
Is Pogačar beatable?
3) I’ve also heard a lot of chatter about how Pogačar could be beaten via fantastical scenarios going forward and that Ineos actually has him right where they want him, but let’s be real, Pogacar hasn’t shown a single weak spot. We’ve only had three major GC setpieces so far and below are the time gaps Pogačar has put into his main rivals:
Gap to Pogačar on Stages 5, 8, 9:
O’Connor – 46
- Yes, you are reading this correctly. In the three GC set pieces, Ben O’Connor has actually taken time on Pogačar. He is only behind Pogacar in the GC due to losing time on the steep, explosive uphill finishes in stages 1 & 2.
- There has been a lot of chatter about Carapaz being Pogačar’s biggest GC rival, but these time gaps tell a completely unbiased story. We get to see who does the best when the teams and strategy are mainly stripped away.
- We will get a lot more of these set pieces stages going forward, so these trends are incredibly important to forecasting how the final GC will look.
Uran for the podium?
4) Pogačar steals the weekend, but quietly, Uran has some of the best days of his career and has made a strong case for the podium.
Should Kuss be the Jumbo-Visma leader
5) I have no idea what Jumbo is doing. They have a rider sitting in 4th place overall, Jonas Vingegaard, who has proven he can time trial and climb at a world-class level, but they sent riders back with Van Aert after he was dropped mid-race on stage 9 when it was clear he wouldn’t be able to salvage any type of GC position. They also sent Kuss into the break on both days, which meant that once he was dropped he couldn’t offer any help either. This left their leader unnecessarily isolated.
- This scattered strategy makes it feel like they are just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks, but it seems like we are far past the moment. Vingegaard has proven himself as a true podium contender.
- I can’t understand why they wouldn’t simply put their resources behind this instead of sending an off-form Kuss up the road to get beat up by riders like O’Connor and Teuns who are absolutely flying.
O’Connor was in virtual yellow on stage 9
6) My guess is that these massive time gaps are not just due to Pogačar’s strength, but also a byproduct of the full-on racing we’ve seen nearly every day this Tour. Even the sprint stages, like stage 6, have had some pretty serious jockeying and racing for the first few hours. Combine the brutal stage 7 with the full-on racing to start the stage, and something has to give.
What can Ineos do?
7) If Ineos is going to race the way this weekend, they might as well just go home now, it simply won’t work and they need to get more creative.
- Ineos’ late-stage attack on stage 9 illustrates the problem with trying to use your team to attack a stronger rider, it only ends up hurting you and helping them. This brutal counter by Pogačar also serves to intimidate the others and teach them that if they attack, he will drop them.
- And this could come into play in the last week. Even if Pogačar is on the limit, the others may not test him due to the punishments they’ve received this week.
UAE Team Emirates in control?
8) I have no idea if UAE did it on purpose, but letting O’Connor get up the road on stage 9 was a stroke of genius. Despite looking good on Sunday, they were not particularly strong today as shown by the fact that they never really pulled O’Connor back even though he had been cooking out front by himself. But by letting O’Connor and Martin go, they put themselves at very little risk and put a ton of pressure on the other teams. It also meant they just simply had to get Pogačar to the final climb since Ineos would be in a position where they had to pace to keep Carapaz in contention for second place on the final climb instead of attacking.
- If Pogačar was going to be put under any real pressure, he would have had to have been isolated by the middle of the stage with multiple passes remaining. The fact that no team, especially Ineos, was willing or strong enough to try this tells me that this thing is probably over.
- An interesting strategy point to think about in regards to Pogačar’s vicious counter-attacks is that he is essentially teaching the peloton to not attack him, which could come into play in the third week if he starts to fade a la Bernal at the Giro. Even if he is struggling, we may never actually know since the other contenders will be too traumatized by these counter-attacks.
- The only thing better would have been if they could have given O’Connor the leader’s jersey by a few seconds so that Pogačar wouldn’t have to deal with the media obligations on the rest day and UAE wouldn’t have had to control the race in the second week.
The end of Roglič 2021 Tour dream
9) Roglič finally drops out of the race and while it is sad that we will never know how this race would have played out if the second-best grand tour rider in the world would have been healthy to challenge Pogačar, it is ultimately for the best. It has been tough to watch him struggle through the Alps with his injuries from the stage 3 crash. Has a house in Tignes and I assume he is just going home and trying to recover for the Vuelta.
Colbrelli on the green jersey hunt?
10) Sonny Colbrelli is riding out of his mind and doing this I didn’t know he was capable of. After being not quite fast enough in bunch sprints, he has reinvented himself this year and is getting podium places on high-altitude mountain stages. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen this before and he has really closed the gap on Cavendish in the fight for the Green points’ jersey over the past two days.
- At only 47-points behind Cavendish with tons of difficult intermediate sprint points coming in the 2nd week, I think he is the favorite to take Green in Paris.
# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #