TOUR BREAKDOWN #3: Milestones for Canada and the US


TOUR BREAKDOWN: The second week of the 2021 Tour de France has not be short of excitement. Do we already know the final winner? Spencer Martin has his ‘BREAKDOWN’ of the action thus far and gives us his ‘Ten Takeaways’ for the final week to Paris.

Has Tadej Pogačar sewn up the 2021 Tour?

– This article is an excerpt from the Beyond the Peloton newsletter. Sign up here for full access. –

A great ride from Sepp Kuss

The second weekend of the Tour de France featured a classic transitional stage on Saturday and the first real Pyrenean mountain stage on Sunday. However, these two difficult stages saw little-to-no GC action, with the general classification leader Tadej Pogačar able to easily hang on the wheels of his GC rivals during their limited attacks and ride into the second rest day with a very comfortable 5+ minute lead over second place overall. While the fight for the overall may have disappointed, the race still produced thrilling fights for stage wins and other classifications, like the Green sprinter’s jersey and the Polka Dot climber’s jersey. American Sepp Kuss ended a 10-year drought for US stage wins at the French grand tour with his solo victory on Sunday, and Canadian Mike Woods became only the second-ever Canadian to wear the Polka Dot jersey by taking the lead in the climber’s classification on Saturday. While he lost the lead to Wout Poels on Sunday’s stage 15, the fight is far from over and shaping up to be one of the most action-packed in the classification’s history.

Big day for Mike Woods and Canada

Ten Takeaways:

1) The USA and Canada both had major milestones this weekend, with Michael Woods became the second-ever Canadian since Alex Stedia to wear the KOM leader Polka Dot Jersey on Sunday’s stage 15 while Sepp Kuss got by far the win of his career and became the first American to win a Tour de France stage since Tyler Farrer in 2011.

Woods and Kuss – Making North America proud

2) The fight for the KOM Polka Jersey is shaping up to be one of the best of all time. With Tadej Pogačar holding a seemingly insurmountable lead in the general classification, fans and riders have to turn elsewhere for suspense, and the Polka Dot is delivering.

  • Wout van Aert, Nairo Quintana, Michael Woods, and Wout Poels, all world-class riders, are all within 10 points of the lead in the competition with three difficult mountain stages remaining.
  • While the competition has been relegated to an afterthought in recent years, we are being treated to all-out sprints early in stages at nearly every summit.
  • And this will most likely only continue throughout the rest of the mountain stages, and the eventual winner will likely not be crowned until the final Pyrenean stage.

Sunday’s big break – But very different tactics

3) The massive breakaway on Sunday showed us massively differing tactics and team priorities. Ineos, EF, and Jumbo are all in contention for the podium and had riders up in the break but did very different things with them.

  • EF sent no riders back and just went for the stage win and let Rigoberto Uran fend for himself.
  • Jumbo let Kuss go for the stage win and had Wout Van Aert wait for Jonas Vingegaard after he was dropped and he acted as a security measure in case Vingegaard was dropped on the final climb and needed help being paced back on.
  • On the other hand, Ineos is clearly all-in for the podium, didn’t even attempt the stage win, and sent everyone back for Richard Carapaz.
  • But ironically, all three teams ended up in exactly the same place in regards to GC at the end of the day, and Jumbo was able to net a stage win and was the only team with more than one rider in the GC group at the finish.
  • Also, as things stand, EF and Jumbo are both more likely to come away from this Tour with a better GC result than Ineos while also chasing stage win success.

Ineos did a lot of work for no gain

4) Ineos’ strategy and pacing on the Port d’Envalira looked impressive, and it did put a lot of time into the breakaway, on the final climb of Col de Beixalis, they were actually slower than Kuss, who had been up the road in the break all day.

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  • Just like Ventoux on stage 11, where Van Aert could hold his gap, we can see that while Kuss is very strong, Ineos simply doesn’t have the strength to really ramp up the pace.
  • They also went from having three riders to one versus Pogačar to being one-on-one versus Pogačar in less than a kilometer on the final climb.
  • This meant that their entire day’s of work was somewhat pointless since Carapaz was actually put on the back foot by the hard pacing of his own team while Pogačar seemed completely unbothered.
  • If they really wanted to put Pogačar under pressure, they needed to attack on the Port d’Envalira, and use their numbers on the descent to pull Carapaz away from Pogačar and try to extend the lead on the final climb.
  • Their chosen strategy of Pogačar and setting tempo accomplishes absolutely nothing.

Is the Ineos problem Carapaz?

5) However, it is possible that Ineos doesn’t have a strategy problem but a Carapaz problem. The team rode a perfect race today and the only thing missing was a leader to finish off the work.

  • What is most concerning is that in the Alps, Carapaz was dropping everyone but Pogačar, while today, not only was he unable to drop Pogačar, but he couldn’t get rid of Uran and Vingegaard either.
  • And what has been lost in the larger conversation is that Carapaz is still not even on the podium. He is sitting in 4th place overall, and still needs at least a minute buffer on Uran and Vingegaard before the final TT to have a chance to come away with this Tour with even a consolation prize.

Ben O’Connor – ‘Isn’t just going to fall out of the top five’

6) Ben O’Connor, who was written off after being dropped on Mt. Ventoux back on stage 11, looked fantastic today and proved he isn’t just going to fall out of the top five, and actually threw down some attacks today and clearly has intentions to move onto the podium.

‘One hit wonder’ – Guillaume Martin

7) Guillaume Martin had an all-time French moment on the penultimate descent when he lost contact with the lead group after making it over the climb with his second place overall intact. It is inexcusable to be dropped on a descent after putting in such a great performance to hang with the leaders on the penultimate climb and being only a single climb away from going into the rest day in second place overall.

  • The fact that he had his jersey open on a 110km/hr descent shows major flaws in his Cofidis team’s sports science/in-race/equipment management ethos. At those speeds, riders are losing significant speed with their jerseys flapping in the wind and it needed to be drilled into the riders that this would be critical on that descent.
  • Additionally, that he was so out of position on that extremely fast descent speaks to the same issue. The team clearly wasn’t prepared for that critical part of the race.

Has Pogačar’s domination underwhelmed most fan’s expectations?

8) The weekend featured exciting racing for the stage wins, but the GC fights underwhelmed most fan’s expectations.

  • I fully expect this to continue, since Pogačar’s lead allows UAE to simply allow the breakaway to get an insurmountable gap, and in fact, it helps them, since it can allow teammates of rival GC riders to ride out of the picture, just like Uran and Vingegaard had multiple riders 5+ minutes up the road while their team leaders were isolated at a critical point in the race.
  • And this will simply keep happening unless a team like EF, Ineos or Jumbo wants to take up the pace and control a stage from the get-go. But besides not having the raw strength, the big risk with that strategy is that they potentially set themselves to control the stage, only to give Pogačar and other podium rivals free rides and expose themselves to attacks later in the stage.

UAE inexperience a problem?

9) A common mistake many fans and even teams are making is that they are looking at Team UAE and seeing an obvious weakness. UAE’s inexperienced riders like Brandon McNulty, Mikel Berg, and Marc Hirschi are sitting too far back on early climbs and then pacing too hard once they hit the front and then are being dropped too far from the finish line, leaving Pogačar isolated.

  • But, on these mountain stages, it is somewhat inconsequential if Pogačar is dropped or not, since he can simply sit on Ineos’ wheels, who are riding like they are defending the race instead of trying to break it up.
  • And, Pogačar’s gap is their ultimate secret weapon. They can simply let a breakaway go and slow pedal the rest of the day. They let the gap go out to close to 10-minute today, and I think they could let that gap get out to close to twice that in the coming days.
  • And the beauty of the current situation with Pogačar having such a big gap to 2nd place and then such small gaps between 2nd-10th means that even if Uran, Carapaz or Vingegaard would get into the early breakaway to turn the race on its hard, the teams of the other podium contenders would go to the front to pace things back for Pogačar to protect their podium spot.

Vingegaard was never in trouble

10) Jumbo-Visma was thoroughly roasted on social media today for their confusing tactics, which included sending Sepp Kuss up the road for the stage win and Van Aert for the KOM jersey while their GC leader, Jonas Vingegaard, was stuck in the peloton with only a single teammate. While this was certainly risky, their strategy of spreading out their bets actually makes a lot of sense.

  • While Vingegaard suggested in the post-race interview that he wanted his team back with him to make the pace harder so he could try to attack Pogačar, his team management knows that Ineos can be counted on to take control of the race, thus eliminating the need for multiple teammates for Vingegaard.
  • They also know that Pogačar’s gap is likely out of reach, and as things stand, Vingegaard is essentially locked into 2nd place overall with summit finishes and a time trial coming up that will allow him to overtake Uran and hold off Carapaz. This means it would be meaningless to leave Wout van Aert, Sepp Kuss, and Steven Kruijswijk back in the peloton with him.
  • And while stage wins might not mean as much to cycling nerds like us as overall podium finish, they mean a lot to the general public and sponsors.
  • Also, Wout van Aert is generating significant publicity with his long-range raids and thrilling sprints for KOM points. He has a very real chance of becoming the only rider in the race’s history of sprinting to victory on the Champs-Élysées wearing the King of the Mountain jersey.
  • And the team deserves a ton of credit. They’ve been able to turn a disastrous situation of their leader crashing out on stage 3 into two mountain stage wins (so far) and a likely 2nd place overall, which is an incredible turnaround.

Mark Cavendish looking to make history

# 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. #

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