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July 22, 2021
While there are always natural shifts in sporting momentum, unexpected weather and offensive attacks often separate the exceptional riders from the rest of the peloton. That said, 2021's slew of crashes and collisions were equally instrumental in shuffling the cards and determining who came out on top unscathed. It appeared as if no single rider went untouched, with major crashes in the first few stages that knocked out contenders like Tony Martin, Richie Porte, and Gerriant Thomas.
Even Primož Roglič of Team Jumbo–Visma fell victim to one of the pre-race favorites. He, like many of the other riders, suffered early on, being pushed into a ditch. Although Roglič fought to regain ground for a few days, he was ultimately forced to abandon before the first rest day. Had a single crash and subsequent abandon been avoided, we could be looking back on an entirely different storyline and outcome for many of this year's Tour de France participants.
Every year new riders try their hand at capturing a TDF stage or classification win. Making an early impact and impression on the tour circuit is undoubtedly one of the ways to get your name into the spotlight. This year's rookie circuit featured a star-studded lineup with riders like Tadej Pogaçar (UAE-Team Emirates), Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) all solidifying a name for themselves. Pogaçar has now joined the historic ranks of rookie winners including Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, and Laurent Fignon who took home victory as newcomers. A Tour de France debutant rarely wins the yellow jersey on their first try so 2021 has undoubtedly set the stage for an exciting future of tour cycling.
Unfortunately, Mark Cavendish missed his chance to capture another stage win and move past his record of 34 stage victories, shared with the legend, Eddy Merckx. Although it wasn't the picture-perfect finish Cavendish had envisioned, the British sprinter can look back at his incredible comeback with both pride and joy.
Even a year ago, it looked like Cavendish was heading towards retirement with a slew of plaguing health issues and no major wins in years. Leading up to the Tour de France, Cavendish battled younger and faster riders, capturing four stage wins at the Tour of Turkey, leading into a stage win in the Tour of Belgium and, when Sam Bennett was ruled out through injury, Cavendish was given the call to join the team in Brest for the Grand Départ of the Tour. Mark Cavendish is a prime example of never giving up, battling through intense emotional and physical adversity to produce results. Although Cavendish missed out on the Champs Elysées, he still ended the Tour de France with four stage wins – more than any other rider in the race – and a second green jersey. I think it’s fair to say that #cavsback.
As many avid fans and spectators have already voiced, the 2021 Tour de France was believed to be, at times, dull and slightly obscure in terms of form and physical design. Deviating from previous years, the course featured what some believed were lackluster finishes and shorter than expected stages. Many believe that this deviation of stage and course formulation led to a lack of excitement which was, in fact, the opposite of its designed intention.
For example, riders heroically climbed Ventoux twice this year without finishing at the top. It wasn't necessarily the absence of the thrilling mountain-top finish to cap the climb that threw people off, but it was the very nature of the course that transformed the riding strategy and overall difficulty of each stage. While some believe this is an attempt by organizers to animate and make the race more exciting, it’s anyone's guess as to whether the riders simply won’t conform or can’t, given the stage design. After all, why exclude the most famous mountain finish in the world? It’s unlikely that this design altered the results or gave Tadej Pogačar an advantage over other riders, however, as a spectator this year's race felt different. For good or bad? We will see.
It's difficult to put into words how truly dominant the young Slovenian powerhouse Tadej Pogačar is, after officially capturing his second Tour de France victory on Sunday and dominating the field for most of the races three weeks. Pogačar did all in his power to leave any and all competitors behind, finishing well-ahead of other riders in time-trial, flat, and mountain stages proving his utter dominance.
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