SAINT-GAUDENS, France (VN) – You hear it every summer – an exhausted runner with broken GC ambitions, and the familiar refrain comes to the fore: “Booof! It’s the toughest Tour de France of all time!
We’re hearing that chorus from the runners this week. Yet something is different in the 2021 Tour de France.
It is not just a few runners crushed here and there who share their misfortunes. It’s rider after rider. Many are calling the 2021 tour the most grueling in years.
“It’s true, you see the DNF and DNS every day, it’s almost the record, and the average speed is almost the record,” said Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels) VeloNews. “Every day is almost full of gas. No one thinks about tomorrow and it’s the runner who races, but every day is like a world championship.
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The peloton clicked wearily on the pedals on Tuesday for the final week of racing.
A growing number of dropouts
As Rolland mentioned, the number of dropouts is gradually increasing.
At the end of the second day of rest, only 147 of the 184 starters remained on the Tour. An average Tour can see between 35 and 50 dropouts, and with two more challenging mountain peaks looming in the Pyrenees, that number is set to increase.
The runners also pull the chute to head to the Olympics. Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) and Amund Groendahl Jansen (Team BikeExchange) did not start on Tuesday, meaning the peloton had not been reduced by that much – 20.65% – since 2012 – 21.21% – before the second day of rest, confirmed the officials of the Tour.
Several riders also miss the time breaks, with each mountain stage seeing a few riders eliminated from the peloton.
“It’s a really tough Tour de France,” said world champion Julian Alaphilippe. “A lot of runners didn’t expect it to be that hard when you look on paper, but it’s the runners who make the race.
“Anyone can feel that it is a really difficult two weeks, and the Pyrenees are only just beginning now,” Alaphilippe said on Monday. “I still expect the Tour to be three weeks of suffering, this Tour is really difficult this year. “
The “Van der Poel factor” and the crashes
Every Tour is tough, but why are so many people saying this particular edition is harder than others?
The runners highlight some of the dynamics of this year’s race.
First of all, the falls and carnage of the first stages in Brittany immediately wreaked havoc. Several big names have failed to break out of northwestern France, including Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma).
Once a top runner hits the bridge, it’s hard to recover. Geraint Thomas (INEOS Grenadiers) saw his chances for the general classification soar while Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) finally succumbed to injuries in the first week.
Read also: Mathieu van der Poel abandons the Tour to focus on the Olympics
Another reason the first week was so difficult?
The peloton designates a rider: Mathieu van der Poel. The Dutch superstar knew he wasn’t going to run for more than a week or so, and raced as if he was surveying a one-week Tour de Belgique rather than a three-week Tour de France.
“Van der Poel made the race really tough the first week,” said Rolland. “When the race starts to get crazy, it never ends like that. It’s crazy until the end. It’s a mad rush every day.
Hunt the “Merckx brand” and hurt yourself
The runners also nominate another runner. Mark Cavendish and his pursuit of Eddy Merckx’s all-time stage wins record means Deceuninck-Quick-Step is chasing the breakaways to organize more sprints.
Several stages that could have ended in breakaways this year were checked by the Belgian super-team to give the resurrected Cavendish a chance to win stages. With more difficult breaks to form, the ‘fight’ on the front of the stage can last longer and the chase picks up sooner as Quick-Step picks up the pace.
“Every day is high speed. We no longer have transition stages, ”said Rolland. “We are driving at an average of 47 km / h for two hours, it’s too fast even on a flat stage. It sounds easy on paper, but we never have time to recover. “
Read also: Cavendish celebrates time limit like it’s a sprint victory
Even with Quick-Step driving the sprints, Cavendish said this year’s edition was particularly brutal for him.
Surviving the Alps and the double ascent of Mont Ventoux was a bigger challenge than winning any sprint he has faced in his career.
“It’s probably the toughest Tour de France I’ve ever done,” Cavendish said. “I’m so lucky to have the guys who stay with me. It got more scientific and now you can plan how much power to weight you can conserve, how much energy you can use each part of the stage and ride without yourself. But you still have to be on it all day.
The runners also point out the uneven weather. Cool temperatures the first week and the French Alps saw the peloton shiver with cold before the heat took over the second week and into the Pyrenees.
Forecasters are calling for cool temperatures in the Pyrenees before the sweltering summer heat returns in the final stages.
“It’s rare that we have had two consecutive rainy days in the Alps,” said Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation). “And then it’s very hot. People think the course looks easy with only three finishes at the top, but running in these conditions can really take its toll. “
The “generation Z” takes over
Is it just remorse from the third week?
Or is there something unique about the 2021 Tour that makes this year’s edition particularly difficult?
“It’s a mix of a lot of reasons,” said Alaphilippe of the difficulty of the Tour. “The new generation is really strong, also with a different racing style, with more attacks, and also the first week with Mathieu van der Poel who was riding like he was coming home the next day and that changed the start of the race. I wasn’t there to run the overall standings, but there were big gaps the first few days, and that’s something we’re not used to seeing on the Tour.
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Indeed, with Tadej Pogačar and a new generation of young drivers taking over, the veterans of the peloton are feeling the need.
“Survival,” said four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation), shaking his head. ” Day by day. “
A week after the start of the Tour, Belgian veteran Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) said he was posting his best power figures of his career and had been abandoned.
“I rode one of my best 10 minutes at the start [of stage 8]. These values have been recorded since 2013, ”said De Gendt. sporza. “With these values, I can normally roll the whole peloton to pieces. Here, I was 100 meters behind in a group of 70 riders, and I started from the front row. When you’re not in the peloton after that, it’s clear that the overall level is just a lot higher.
Pogacar’s lightning attack in the rain to win at Le Grand-Bornand and his dominant lead means the teams behind him have to run more aggressively to try to shake him off, or at least have a chance behind him to get on the final podium at Paris.
Each year, the Tour de France is harder, faster and more dangerous.
Every summer, the riders report it. And every July, the cycle repeats.
“Each year the group is faster, the material is faster and the level is higher on average,” said Rolland. “You have to either stay the same as everyone else, or be abandoned. “