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The 108th edition of the Tour de France got underway on Saturday 26th June 2021. The Grand Depart, originally due to take place in Copenhagen, was transferred to Brest, in the coastal region of Brittany, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and also took place slightly earlier in the year than usual, to avoid the rescheduled Tokyo Olympic Games. The Grand Depart will now take place from Copenhagen in 2022. This will be the first time the tour has visited Denmark in its 117 year history. It will NOT be an event to miss!
As ever, the roster, at the start of the 2021 tour was stacked! As well as defending champion Tadej Pogacar, two time winner of the Vuelta a Espana, and former Tour de France runner up, Primoz Roglic was looking in good form ahead of the tour, fresh from winning the points classification at the 2021 Paris – Nice. Team Ineos – Granadiers were also fielding a strong team, with Richard Carapaz, Richie Porte, and former yellow jersey winner Geriant Thomas all considered strong contenders for the title. Add into the mix, some of the biggest names from the world of cycle-cross and one day classics, such as Wout Van Aert and Matthieu Van Der Poel, and home favourites including Julian Alaphilippe, and what you’re left with is a race that was sure to shock, excite, and throw up at least a few surprise results.
Unfortunately, for the points classification, defending green jersey champion Sam Bennett had to withdraw just days before the 2021 tour due to injury. This not only sparked the opportunity for perhaps a new champion, but also opened the door for two Tour de France legends, Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan, to come and take another bite of the apple.
Stage 1 of this year’s tour was, sadly, not without incident. There were two major crashes on the route between Brest to Landerneau, both of which caused severe disruption to the race.
The first came with 45 km to go, when an overzealous fan, holding up a placard, and leaning into the road, in efforts to be featured on television, sparked a mass pile up. Jumbo-Visma rider Tony Martin was sent tumbling, in efforts to avoid the woman, And, as he was near the front of the main bunch, caused chaos behind him, with around 50 bikes and riders being strewn across the asphalt.
At the end of the stage, race organisers condemned the woman’s behavior.
After 25 kilometres, the somewhat battered and bruised peloton came together once again. Then, just 7.5 km from the finish, there was another mass crash. This time Chris Froome, Marc Haller, and Andre Greipel were among those to lose out badly, while Alaphilippe, Van Aert, Roglic, and Pogacar, got through the crash fairly unscathed, and were able to continue their campaigns.
With 2.3km to go, Alaphilippe attacked. Although chased by Roglic, Pogacar and Latour, he was able to extend his lead, and claim the first stage of the 2021 Tour de France. Michael Matthews won the sprint for second place, while Primoz Roglic finished in third. For the third Tour in a row, home crowd favourite Alaphilippe had claimed yellow in the opening days of the tour.
Stage 2 of the tour, and already a lot of the pre-race favourites and big hitters had a lot of catching up to do, following the previous day’s drama. Richie Porte (Ineos) lost 2:16, Simon Yates lost 3:17 and Alejandro Valverde lost 5:33. Despite doubts over whether he could continue, 4 time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, was ready and raring to go at the start of a second stage that included two ascents of the infamous climb, Mur-de-Bretagne.
It was Dutch rider, Mattieu Van Der Poel who took the win on the day. The 26 year old pointed to the sky, as he crossed the line, claiming his win in honour of his late grandfather Raymond Poulidor. Tour great Poulidor was known, in the cycling world as the ‘eternal second’. He finished second in the tour three times and third on five occasions. Despite his success, and 14 years of racing the event, he never wore yellow; making his Grandson’s stage victory even sweeter.
He attacked with clinical precision on both ascents of the Mur-de-Bretagne. Going all out for his chance to wear yellow, he claimed the 8 second time bonus the first time round, and took 26 seconds off Geriant Thomas’s chasing group over the line.
Defending champion Tadej Pogacar and his compatriot, and 2020 runner up) Primoz Roglic, were second and third, at the end of the 183.5 km route. Stage 2 left Van Der Poel in yellow with Alaphilippe 8 seconds behind. Pogacar and Roglic took 4th and 5th (just 1 second apart), while Wilco Kelderman of Bora-Hansgrohe finished off the top 5, 24 seconds off the pace.
Stage 3 was once again a dramatic stage, punctuated with several crashes. Geriant Thomas’s tour looked almost over after a heavy fall and dislocated shoulder inside the first 50 km of the stage. However, Jumbo’s-Visma’s Robert Gesink was not so lucky, being forced to abandon after the same crash.
In the KOM competition, Ide Schelling was able to take hold of the yellow jersey after his solo effort to the top of the iconic Cadoudal, after which he sat up and waited to be swept in by the peloton. Several crashes happened on the narrow roads leading to the end of the stage. With 12 km to go a large crash split the peloton, leaving Lopez, Gaudu, Madouas and Cavendish, among others, chasing behind. Both last year’s winner, Pogacar, and runner up, Roglic, fell in the later stages of the race as well, causing a massive shake up in the GC standings (although Van der Poel retained yellow).
Van der Poel himself powered to the finish in the final kilometre of the stage, providing the perfect lead out for team mates Merlier and Philipsen. Behind them, Caleb Ewan and, 7 time green jersey champion, Peter Sagan collided, just yards from the finish, leaving the road clear for Merlier to claim the first sprinter’s stage of the tour (just as he did at the 2021 Giro).
The stage finished with a Belgian/ Alpecin – Fenix 1 – 2 from Merlier and Philipsen, while Van der Poel’s 7th place finish was enough for him to hold on to Yellow for another day.
Unfortunately, Ewan’s collision with Sagan resulted in a broken collarbone, and the end of the tour for the Australian rider. At the top of the GC, Pogacar and Roglic both suffered heavy time losses, with the former dropping out of the top 5 and Roglic (who lost 1:20) plummeting all the way to 20th position. Richard Carapaz is now the highest ranked GC contender, in 3rd, at 31 seconds behind, while home favourite Julian Alaphilippe moved into 2nd, just 8 seconds off the lead.
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