TOUR BREAKDOWN: The dust is settling on the Champs Élysées as the 2021 Tour de France packs up for another year, and so Spencer Martin gives us his BREAKDOWN of the final week. Ten Tour takeaways and what they tell us for the future of Tadej Pogačar and the pro peloton.
Wout van Aert: Mountains, time trial and sprint…
The final weekend of the Tour de France was essentially a massive PR event disguised as a bike race for Wout van Aert, who boggled minds and redefined what cycling minds thought was possible in the modern iteration of the sport by winning the time trial on stage 20 along with the Champs-Élysées bunch sprint on stage 21. This incredible duet means that along with his victory on one of the hardest mountain stages of the race, he became the first rider since Bernard Hinault in 1979 to win a mountain, time trial, and sprint stage in the same Tour de France.
Van Aert – The new Hinault?
While Tadej Pogačar continued his essentially unchallenged ride to overall victory over the weekend, the performances of Van Aert and his teammate Jonas Vingegaard, who actually gained time on Pogačar over the final 12 stages, signaled that Pogačar’s commanding 5+ minute overall win might not be the norm and that the 22-year-old Slovenian could have a few real generational talents challenging him at next year’s edition of the race.
Tadej Pogačar: Too easy this year – wait for 2022
1) Wout van Aert’s pair of wins over the weekend making him the only rider in modern history, and first rider since Bernard Hinault in 1979 to win a true bunch sprint, TT, and mountain stage in the same Tour de France.
- I have to wonder what could have been had he not had the emergency appendix surgery in June. He is one of the only riders able to out-TT Pogačar and as we saw multiple times this race, can climb with (and sometimes outclimb) the best.
- This result after working in the mountain stages through the Pyrenees for Vingegaard will only further continue speculation that he could return to this race as a potential overall contender.
- And while it might have seemed far-fetched before this Tour, he got 19th place overall here after going under the knife to have his appendix removed right before the start of the race and not even targeting the overall in the 2nd and 3rd weeks.
- His talent profile, if specifically trained, is perfect to foil a rider like Pogačar. Van Aert proved with his double Mt. Ventoux victory that he can climb with the best and his time trial ability means he can actually force Pogačar to come up with a plan to beat him in the road stages, instead of being on the back foot like nearly every other rider in the field.
- He clearly improved as this race progressed and looking back, he likely came into this race slightly out of shape due to his pre-race appendix removal.
Jonas Vingegaard: Intriguing talent
2) The Tour unearthed another incredibly intriguing talent in Jonas Vingegaard. He finished off a great Tour de France with a super impressive third place in the time trial and second place overall.
- He actually gained 12-seconds on Pogačar over the last 12 stages, which should bode incredibly well for his future and possibly set up a really entertaining rivalry with Pogačar going forward.
- He also proved that he is a legitimate world-class time trialist, with 3rd place in both TT stages, while also being able to climb with Pogačar on almost every mountain stage.
- This means he has the perfect rider profile to win and even dominant grand tours going forward.
Van Aert, Vingegaard and Kuss – Who needs Roglič?
3) Vingegaard and Van Aert’s Jumbo-Visma team has completely turned their season around since stage 11 of this race.
- They went from struggling with team-wide underperformance since the start of the year to rattling off four stage wins over the course of 11 days and getting 2nd place overall at the biggest race of the year.
- And they have done all of this with only five riders remaining on their team and their star GC leader crashing out on stage 3.
The Jumbo-Visma sprint train lead-out: Mike Teunissen
4) Jumbo’s Tour stands in massive contrast with that of the team right below them in the overall standings, Ineos.
- They came into this race boasting the strongest overall team but then proceeded to race in their usual conservative style despite not having the strongest rider in the race and never even really being in position to challenge for overall victory.
- And outside of Michał Kwiatkowski and Jonathan Castroviejo, their team strength never materialized.
- Almost every support rider on the team struggled to keep pace with the others when things got serious.
- Geraint Thomas suffered a dislocated shoulder on stage 3 and Richie Porte essentially no-showed the race after winning the most important TdF preparation race, the Criterium du Dauphine in June.
- But even before Thomas crashed on stage 3, he and Porte looked completely out-classed when trying to set pace at the base of the Mûr-de-Bretagne.
- Even worse is that Tao Geoghegan Hart, Thomas, and Porte looked checked out mentally as soon as their own GC ambitions went out the window.
- If Dave Brailsford can’t fix this disharmony, the team runs the risk of having millions of pounds sterling in salary tied up in riders who can’t compete for GC and stages in grand tours while also not having an interest or the strength in helping others to do so.
- Their final grade won’t be great. They failed to get into any meaningful breakaways and were even on the front, presumably for Cavendish, on the final lap of the final stage. In my opinion, that they would think it is appropriate to use their $60 million per year budget to work for a former teammate instead of attempting to chase a win at a race where they have vastly underperformed shows just how out-of-touch with reality the team has allowed itself to become.
- With team owner Jim Ratcliffe having his net worth decrease recently, I have to imagine he will start to look at actions like this and wonder why exactly he is shelling out so much cash for his riders not to win but try to help riders on other teams win.
Ineos and Carapaz: Disappointing
5) Richard Carapaz’s third place overall will be a massive disappointment for his team, but it is a great result for him and potentially the high watermark of his career.
- He won the overall Giro d’Italia in 2019, but I would argue this podium finish is more impressive.
- This highlights the major issue inside Ineos. Their perception of themselves doesn’t match up with what the individual talent inside the team is actually capable of.
Ben O’Connor: 4th place overall is massive for him and his career
6) Ben O’Connor’s performance to land him 4th place overall is massive for him and his career and is made even more special by the unorthodox way in which he did it.
- He lost over eight minutes to Tadej Pogačar by stage 8, but took six of those minutes back with a long-range breakaway on stage 9 to go into 2nd place overall heading into the first rest day.
- His only stumble after that was when he lost contact up Mt. Ventoux on stage 11 and lost four minutes.
- But, instead of simply coming unraveled and falling down the leaderboard, he held strong and came into Paris with his best-ever career result of 4th place overall.
This is also a great sign for bargain-hunting teams that there are great, affordable riders lurking out there in the transfer market.
- And this is the exact type of rider ISN should have chased instead of their big-name, small-results lineup.
Cavendish lost his lead-out in the finalé
7) Cavendish and DQS lost their first bunch sprint of the race on Sunday, but unfortunately, it happened to be on the race’s biggest sprint stage and when they were racing to make history.
- I can’t help but feel like the pressure got to them and in retrospect, they maybe should have gone all-out to force a sprint on stage 19 when they could have run a cleaner sprint train.
- Today’s stage proved to be just too difficult to truly control, and this created a situation where Cavendish had to go pedal-stroke-for-pedal-stroke with riders who are faster and more explosive than him.
- For reference, Alaphilippe had to pull off with 3.4km remaining today when he was leading the team into the final kilometer.
Maybe Alaphilippe shouldn’t have gone with a break
8) The stage is referred to as a sprinter’s world championship since it doesn’t get any bigger than winning on such an iconic boulevard on the final stage of the world’s biggest race. Wout has been winning the odd sprint stage here and there, but now that he has won this, his bunch sprinting chops can’t be questioned and he has proven that he can beat some of the best sprinters in the biggest moment.
- His talents completely break any type of existing mold and it is becoming hard to put his achievements into context.
- When we finally got a more open sprint, his superior raw power and positioning skills saw him emerge as the best sprinter in the race.
- It isn’t clear where sprinting goes from here. If Wout van Aert can win bunch sprints while riding to a top-20 overall finish, I have to imagine the trend of cutting lead-out trains and bringing more versatile sprinters instead of the rigid, pure sprinters like Sam Bennett and Pascal Ackerman will continue.
- But, I also wonder if this opens up an opportunity for a team like DSM, who got nothing from this race, to run back their same tactics but with Sam Bennett instead of Ces Bool. In theory, they could have cleaned up 5 or 6 stage wins with Bennett. This would be a reboot of the HTC-Colombia model of picking off wins in disciplines where other teams aren’t focusing.
Sprinter’s world championship
9) Tadej Pogačar’s second-consecutive overall win means the interregnum period between the Froome era and the new era is officially over.
- We thought back in 2019 that Egan Bernal had taken up the mantle as the new dominant Tour de France winner, but injuries and difficulties getting race starts on his own team, have kept his reign from taking full flight.
- But the funny thing about dynasties is that we are two years into Pogačar’s reign but are only fully realizing the incredibly strong grip he has on the sport. In just the last three seasons he has won six one-week stages races, a one-day Monument, six Tour de France stages, and two overall Tour titles.
- To put this into perspective, this is arguably greater than the career road achievements of Geraint Thomas and Bradley Wiggins COMBINED! [four Tour stage wins, two overall titles, and 11 one-week stage races].
- I was somewhat shocked at just how few times his UAE team was challenged after he took the race lead on stage 8. They potentially rode the fewest total kilometers on the front than any overall winning team in the modern history of the sport.
We are only fully realizing the incredibly strong grip he has on the sport
10) While Pogačar currently appears to be an unstoppable force, the broader landscape does appear quite different than at the beginning of the Armstrong and Froome dynasties.
- There are multiple young GC stars lurking out there who could challenge Pogačar in future Tour de Frances.
- As I mentioned above, Jonas Vingegaard actually gained time on Pogačar in the final 12 stages, and Egan Bernal, the 2019 overall champion, appeared back to his best en route to winning the 2021 Giro d’Italia.
- And those two are healthy and backed by supportive teams (something both have struggled with) at the start of the 2022 Tour, there likely won’t be another Pogačar cakewalk.
- Another key detail is that while Pogačar’s UAE team rose to the challenge and supported his team incredibly well in the last half of this race, they were never really challenged, and simply don’t have the firepower to suppress a race in the manner that USPostal and Sky/Ineos before them.
UAE; United they may be, but are they strong enough?
# 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. #