Fifteen stages in the 2021 Tour de France and it’s a welcome second day of rest for the survivors of the peloton. The carnage that occurred in the early stages was replaced in the second week by an assault on everyone’s constitution, with an uncomfortable mix of weather, speed and fierce competition.
So although Andorra is famous for its duty free shopping, I somehow doubt that there are many riders walking around the different outlets looking for a good deal. In fact, given the Principality’s hilly terrain, I wouldn’t be surprised if a few teams get into the cars and look for a flatter spot for a smoother leg.
At this point in the race you would think it would be mandatory, but there are a lot of fatigued bodies and inactive recovery might be a better choice for those who are in a lot of pain.
The main conclusion to be drawn is that with each passing day for Tadej Pogačar, the likelihood of him being dethroned from the top of the race seems more and more unlikely. His little moment of weakness during the second ascent of Mont Ventoux on stage 11 was largely recovered and since then nothing seems to have really worried the wearer of the yellow jersey.
Other than the occasional one where he had to go up alone for the last few kilometers on windy days, there isn’t much to note in terms of threats.
It has also become quite clear that Jonas Vingegaard is set to win last year’s championship race and this despite having been left to his own devices on several occasions while his most illustrious teammates Jumbo-Visma are pursuing stage victories. Now that the Dutch team have achieved at least two wins, they can fully focus on securing one of the podium spots with the young Dane, as his performances so far make him a distinct possibility.
The last steep climb of the Col de Beixalis before the descent to Andorra on stage 15 showed who the top four riders in the GC were, namely Pogacar, Vingegaard, Urán and Richard Carapaz. The latter having the luxury of being set up by Ineos in a display of tactics manual.
However, he faces rivals at the height of his current climbing prowess and all will take a few seconds, if not minutes, of his on the penultimate day of the time trial. Therefore, the statement “expect the unexpected” seems at odds with what happened when Ineos tried to pressure the UAE and Pogačar because Team Sky-esque style of defining a high pace and then releasing the leader chosen to administer the coup de grace no longer works these days.
All it does is tire their own riders and remove the options for future stage wins. Carapaz isn’t going to sneak into a hiatus anytime soon and if one of the others does, he’ll need to be fresh enough to complete an opportunity.
It might not be what Dave Brailsford and his sporting directors had planned for the team when they arrived in Brittany but another year with no one on the podium in Paris it seems the likely outcome, and given the budget. and the available workforce, this is quickly approaching disaster.
They got something back from the 2020 edition with Michał Kwiatkowski’s stage victory, although it’s hard to see how they’ll do it again when guys with any potential freedom are exhausted in a GC game that doesn’t. not go in their direction. Climbing above Ben O’Connor and Guillaume Martin when they’re more than likely to crack down anyway from previous efforts is little reward.
Fortunately, the real story of this Tour is Mark Cavendish’s return to victory. Surprised by his success at Chateauroux we may have been, but it’s no surprise that he then backed that up with three more sprint wins and he looks solid at the top of the points standings. Just because Merlier, Sagan and Ewan aren’t racing anymore – no, it’s that he rides in a way that maximizes his chances.
He has the best starting train at Deceuninck-QuickStep and they took him through the mountain stages, but everywhere else he was where he needed to be. Look at the steps of the rung again and you will notice that it is there in the correct positions.
This means he was lucid enough in the last 200 yards to use his strength and his experience to devastating effect is a logical consequence. The shine is back and that is, more than all the talk on the records, what matters in the end.