From June 26 through July 18, the Tour de France returns to its summertime glory for 2021. The Tour rolled out of the Atlantic port of Brest on June 26, with teams of eight riders embarking on a 21-day trek across France with all eyes on defending champion Tadej Pogačar.
Read below for stage-by-stage updates, results, and highlights.
The Mark Cavendish comeback gathered pace Thursday as he won his second stage in three days with a triumph on a day for pure sprinters along a 1.7K home straight at Chateauroux.
After a barren five-year spell at the Tour, the win on Stage 6 took Cavendish’s tally at the world’s greatest bike race to 32 stage wins, just two short of Belgian great Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34.
Mathieu van der Poel keeps the yellow jersey going into Stage 7.
Defending champion Tadej Pogačar fired out a defiant warning to would-be Tour de France title contenders by storming the individual time trial on Wednesday, while Mathieu van der Poel clung on to the overall lead after Stage 5.
Van der Poel kept hold of his yellow jersey by just eight seconds while Ineos pair Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz lost more than a minute on Slovenia’s ever-improving Pogačar, who is now second in the overall standings.
Ahead of the 27.2K time trial, Pogačar described the stage as critical to his chances of defending the title he won in 2020 and the manner in which he raced Wednesday backed up that statement.
Pogačar won last year’s Tour de France by overturning compatriot Primož Roglic’s comfortable lead in a time trial on the penultimate day, and here he appeared to do at least as well as that fateful day on the feted La Planche des Belles Filles slopes where he clinched the Tour on his rookie appearance.
“It couldn’t really have gone any better today,” said the 22-year-old UAE rider. “With so many fans along the route it was really emotional and I rate this as one of my best days in the saddle.”
“I have changed my riding position, it’s less aerodynamic but allows me a stronger push,” added Pogačar after timing 32 minutes exactly over the 27.2K course, clocking an average speed of 51km/h (32mph).
His time was 44 seconds faster than that of Roglič, who fell heavily on Monday, and one minute and 18 seconds quicker than 2018 champion Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder before managing to pick himself up and finish the same crash-marred stage.
Pogačar’s time unseated Stefan Kung of Groupama-FDJ, who held the fastest time through much of the stage, with a 19-second lead. Jonas Vingegaard of Jumbo-Visma placed third in the stage, with Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma placing fourth, and Van der Poel taking fifth. Primož Roglič also gave a strong performance, despite his injuries, and placed seventh.
Pogačar’s phenomenal ride didn’t quite give him the overall lead but it leaves him in the driving seat for the title, one minute and 44 seconds ahead of Carapaz, with Roglič and Thomas four and 10 seconds further adrift respectively.
“There are still some tricky stages, even an easy looking day, you never know what can happen,” said Pogačar. “I’m further ahead now and attacks will come every day.”
Welshman Thomas said he had been feeling poorly, and had mixed feelings after the stage.
“I got the pacing right, but lacked a bit of power. I woke up feeling dreadful, and only loosened up out on the road,” he said.
Carapaz said he was glad the test was behind him, while Richie Porte suggested it was far from over saying, “We have a good tactical card to play, it was a good performance.”
The yellow jersey “gave me wings”
Van der Poel had vowed to defend the yellow jersey, but this was only the second time he had raced a time trial at the top level, and he reached beyond expectations to hold the lead on his debut Tour.
“He’s a true champion, he deserves his yellow, and he put on a great show, didn’t he,” Pogačar said of Van der Poel.
The raw emotions that accompanied Van der Poel taking yellow on Stage 2, avenging his recently deceased grandfather and former cyclist Raymond Poulidor, who never wore yellow despite winning seven stages, made way to a lighter-hearted side of “VDP” (as fans call him).
“The jersey gave me wings. I’m really proud of this achievement, it’s one I’ll remember,” said the 26-year-old who was cheered wildly by French fans packed tightly along the course.
On a day when a spectator who caused a mass crash of riders on Stage 1 was arrested by French police, there were tens of thousands of roadside fans infringing onto the route as the tension mounted towards the finish line.
“This was the best day of my career, we didn’t think I could keep the jersey today, but we worked well past midnight last night in preparing it all,” said Van der Poel, who had a tailored yellow skinsuit on. Van der Poel will likely keep the overall lead a few days longer, with two flat stages to come.
Another happy man was veteran Mark Cavendish, who kept hold of the green jersey for best sprinter.
“I held back a bit today because there are two flat stages coming up and I’ll need my energy to sprint,” said the Isle of Man rider.
The Briton won Tuesday’s bunch sprint finish to take his Tour de France tally to 31 stage wins and close in on the all-time record of 34 held by Belgian great Eddy Merckx.
Mark Cavendish broke down and wept after sprinting to his first Tour de France stage victory in five years on Tuesday, taking his tally of wins to 31 in the world’s greatest bike race.
Cavendish only made the Deceuninck Tour de France roster after Irish sprinter Sam Bennett pulled out at the last minute and was generous in his praise of the team’s crucial role in his return to the top.
The signs looked good early on in the fourth stage when Cavendish won the intermediate sprint, his maximum 70-point gain on the day handing him the green jersey awarded to the sprint points leader. In the sprint on this relatively short stage Cavendish showed all his savvy, biding his time to edge ahead with 50 meters to go and eventually finishing ahead of French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni.
Known as the “Manx Missile,” the rider from the Isle of Man shook his head in disbelief as he pulled on the green jersey.
“It’s been five years too long,” said Cavendish, inching closer to Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 individual stage wins between 1969 and 1975.
“There has been a lot of talk about my condition and I hope this gives hope to people in my condition,” said the 36-year-old who was diagnosed in 2017 with the Epstein-Barr virus, which can cause persistent fatigue.
Conversely, there was heartbreak for Belgian rookie Brent Van Moer as the 23-year-old Lotto-Soudal rider was caught just 150 meters from the finish line after leading an escape for the majority of the attack.
“I had fire in my eyes”
Cavendish hailed world champion Julian Alaphilippe, from whom he inherited the green jersey, after the Frenchman gave everything to get Cavendish into position.
“I didn’t think we were going to catch him,” Cavendish admitted. “The GC guys were ahead blocking the road and we couldn’t get them going.”
“But I had fire in my eyes,” said an emotional Cavendish.
“It’s not easy winning a Tour de France stage, the hardest thing has been people not understanding how hard it was to win those stages,” he said of the years when his career seemed to have stalled.
“It’s not about proving anyone wrong. I knew I could do it, I just need someone to believe in me and that was Patrick Lefevere, and my wife at home, those are the people I wanted to believe,” he continued.
Cavendish was out of contract in December but was taken ‘home’ to Deceuninck Quick-Step, who call themselves “the Wolfpack” by Belgian team boss Lefevere, a larger-than-life character Cavendish has always trusted and believed in. Lefevere sent Cavendish to the level two Tour of Turkey in April and when he won four stages there, the foundation for a return to the top had been laid.
“I know why I’m good or bad, and I need a happy place, a team that functions as a team, a bike that fitted me, that’s why I came back to [Deceuninck] Quick-Step for the happiest time of my life,” said the sprinter.
“The Wolfpack thing is not just the face of a wolf on a t-shirt, look at Julian Alaphilippe today giving all that, I feel privileged,” Cavendish said.
Alaphilippe won Stage 1 to take the yellow jersey before losing it to Mathieu van der Poel on Sunday, but on Wednesday’s time-trial the French rider, on paper at least, has a good chance of winning it back.
The 2020 champion, Tadej Pogačar, is also gunning for a win on Wednesday.
“Yes, tomorrow is critical,” Pogačar said. “I’ve been thinking about it since I got here.”
Dutch rookie Van der Poel, who shed tears in memory of his renowned cyclist grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, on Sunday, said he felt he would lose the overall lead during the Stage 5 time trial.
“We’ll be trying to get another stage victory somewhere else, it’ll be too tough for us tomorrow,” he said.
Alaphilippe has worn the yellow jersey 18 times and trails Van der Poel by just eight seconds, with Pogačar in sixth overall, a further 30 seconds down on his chief threat ahead of Wednesday’s 27K test.
Race favourites Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas, as well as ace sprinters Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan were all involved in nasty crashes before Tim Merlier won a drama-filled Stage 3 of the Tour de France on Monday, with one manager making a passionate plea for new safety measures.
Merlier’s teammate Mathieu van der Poel kept hold of the overall lead on a brutal day of racing peppered with falls on the rain-slick, narrow winding roads in Brittany with Thomas dislocating a shoulder and 2020 runner-up Roglič losing valuable time.
Yellow jersey wearer Van der Poel cut a dour figure compared to the tear-filled elation he experienced after winning Sunday’s stage two.
“It was a very fast, technical run-in with all the general classification guys racing for their places, it’s difficult to say anything now,” said Van der Poel.
“It’s a big race, (in the) overall standings guys fighting against sprinters, for sure it’s a dangerous sport,” said the Dutch Alpecin-Fenix rider in muted celebrations after he not only retained the yellow jersey but also led out Merlier’s sprint train.
“Will mothers let their kids cycle?”
With two mass pile-ups marring Stage 1 and an ensuing hunt for the mystery culprit French police have vowed to catch up with, followed by the thrill and raw emotion of Van der Poel winning one for his illustrious cycling family on Stage 2, drama was always likely to be coming round the next corner.
And so it proved on the seafront at the Plage de Testel, 2018 champion Thomas losing his concentration and hitting the ground so hard he dislocated a shoulder before making it back to the peloton with the help of three teammates. Images of Thomas shaking his legs while having his shoulder put back in by medics won’t be easy to forget.
Slovenia’s Roglič then hit the tarmac hip first with 10K to go, and while shaken he also limited his losses with the help of teammates. Although his Tour is not finished, he now has time to make up on Tadej Pogačar and Thomas.
The worst fall came in the home straight with Caleb Ewan hitting Merlier’s back wheel at over 80kph and taking Slovak sprint specialist Sagan down with him, the pair sliding for tens of meters on the tarmac.
Ewan’s main sprint rival from FDJ, Arnaud Demare, had also fallen on a bend just outside Pontivy and his manager Marc Madiot was furious.
“Kids, families, mothers are watching this, will mothers want their kids to cycle? We have been speaking about this for years, this isn’t cycling, what condition is Ewan in,” said an impassioned Madiot.
Ineos’s Carapaz into third
In the chaos of all the crashes, Ineos’s Ecuadorian rider Richard Carapaz was the overall title contender ending the day with relative good news as he climbed to third in the overall standings.
Van der Poel enjoys an eight-second lead over Stage 1 winner Julian Alaphilippe, with Carapaz in third at 31 seconds along with Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma.
But Pogačar and Thomas both lost 26 seconds Monday while a grazed Roglič crossed the line one minute and 20 seconds down, having rallied heroically to save his Tour.
As for the mystery woman in yellow who caused the first crash on day one with her sign held up in front of the pack, French authorities are still actively looking for her, a high-ranking gendarme told AFP Monday.
“We don’t know who she is, if she’s German or Franco-German or whatever. But don’t worry, we’ll find her,” the gendarme said. “She isn’t at risk of much more than a fine, the ASO (race organizers) are making this move more as a warning to fans on the roadside.”
There were massed ranks of fans again Monday, but none of the falls were their fault.
Mathieu van der Poel won Stage 2 of the Tour de France on Sunday to claim the overall leader’s yellow jersey and strike a blow for his famous cycling family.
The Dutch 25-year-old is the grandson of French cycling icon, the late Raymond Poulidor, who was a regular on the Tour de France podium and beloved of French fans despite never wearing the fabled yellow jersey.
Van der Poel dropped to the tarmac gasping for breath before weeping with his hands covering his face as the weight of Poulidor’s historic legacy was settled on two dramatic ascents of the same Brittany hill, the Mur-de-Bretagne.
“Imagine how he’d feel, he’s not here,” said van der Poel of Poulidor who died in 2019 at the age of 83. “This was my last chance on the Tour to do it, it’s so good.”
French fans saw their own hero Julian Alaphilippe lose the yellow jersey, but cheered the Dutchman both for his gung-ho passion and for his beloved grandfather.
Van der Poel won a maximum of 18 bonus seconds for crossing the summit in the lead twice, and then winning by a clear margin after accelerating away from a chasing clutch of elite road racers.
Defending champion Tadej Pogačar was second followed by Primoz Roglič, while Alaphilippe was fifth at eight seconds.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe dusted himself off from a fall to claim the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France on Saturday, winning Stage 1 by a clear margin on a crash-marred opening day.
World champion Alaphilippe shot up the early section of the final 3K climb taking 10 bonus seconds at the finish line and ended another 12 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger.
Australia’s Michael Matthews was second and is second overall at 16 seconds while Slovenia’s Primož Roglič came third and is in the same position in the overall standings.
Crossing the line in his world champion’s rainbow jersey, Alaphilippe put his thumb in his mouth in honor of his newborn son with his partner Marion Rousse, a former professional cyclist and now commentator.
INEOS Grenadiers leader Geraint Thomas and defending champion Tadej Pogačar were just behind this group on a hugely stressful finish with major time gaps at stake that almost certainly led to the second of two mass falls on the day.
Just before the finish, around 20 riders lay stricken and needing attention shortly after a first mass fall on the Tour de France opening stage including four time champion Chris Froome.
Unlike the earlier crash caused by a fan, the second came as the peloton was going around 70kph some 5km from the finish line.
A first fall happened some 45K away from the finish line of stage one of the Tour between Brest and Landerneau.
A fan brandishing a sign brought down German rider Tony Martin who was riding near the head of the pack and close to excited roadside spectators.
The Jumbo-Visma rider fell, bringing down a huge number of fellow peloton members behind him. The crash held up the race for five minutes while bikes and bodies were untangled.
The race leader slowed down to allow the stragglers to catch up and despite the spectacular tangle only one rider, Germany’s Jasha Sutterlin of DSM, has so far had to pull out due to the accident.
Italian champion Sonny Colbrelli and Dutch rider Wout van Aert, who ran over Martin before falling head over heels, had both been amongst the favorites to win the first stage hilltop finish but were both badly delayed.
Hordes of unmasked fans decked out in red-and-white polka dot caps and shirts lined the narrow Brittany country lanes for the 197K stage as France eases its COVID-19 restrictions.
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