Whether it is riding through the mountains or being challenged by the time cutoff, the second week of the French Grand Cycling Tour provided viewers with another solid week of both highlights and nail-biting moments that left viewers of all countries on the edge of their seats.
As expected, stage 8 wore riders down, as all 177 riders embarked on five separate climbs, three of which were category 1 (the highest categorized climbs). The sprinters parted from the lead pack following their sprint challenge within the first 50 km of the race. As riders were strewn across the course during the climbs, the existing race leaders began to fall off while the climbers stepped forward and challenged the rest of the pack on a slick Saturday afternoon. After nearly four hours of racing, Dylan Teuns of Belgium crossed the line alone following his breakaway with about 50 km to go. The jersey standings took a significant shift as well. Mathieu Van Der Poel of the Netherlands slipped to 23rd after holding yellow for the better part of last week, while Tadej Pogacar, the young rider leader, slid into the yellow jersey after coming in fourth on the day.
Stage 9 featured another rainy day in the Alps, as the climbers were given more opportunities in the form of two category 2, two category 1, and an uncategorized climb. Sprinters didn’t get much of a chance for points outside of a small challenge inside the first set of climbs, a portion in which Sonny Colbrelli defeated five other riders across the summit. At the end of the race, Ben O’Connor of Australia crossed the line first, while Pogacar stayed in yellow and Cavendish in green. The polka-dot jersey, signifying the most prolific climber, began to take shape at the end of this stage, as Colombian rider Nairo Quintana continues his dominance of years past in the mountainous stages of the race.
Following a rest day on Monday, stage 10 saw Mark Cavendish win yet another stage, pulling himself within one of Eddy Merckx’s nearly 50-year-old record of stage victories. The flat stage favored the sprinting riders, as no rider seemed to struggle on a day featuring a single category four climb. The 190.7-kilometer course allowed the riders to stay together for the most part, and none of the jersey standings moved.
Wout Van Aert got his revenge after finishing second to Cavendish in stage 10, as he earned his first stage victory of the tour in stage 11. After ranking within the top five in the yellow jersey competition for the better part of the first ten stages, the Jumbo-Visma cyclist struggled on stage 9, placing 86th out of a possible 175. The course featured climbs of both category 1 and 4, as well as a high climb that was uncategorized. Nairo Quintana continued to dominate the climbs, while Tadej Pogacar maintained his standing at the top of the overall leaderboard.
As 155 riders started the 12th stage of the tour, Cavendish was heavily favored to break Merckx’s record of stage wins. Instead, he came in 14th behind riders such as stage winner Nils Politt of team Bora-Hansgrohe. Politt won a rather elementary stage, with the biggest challenge of the day was a category 3 climb near the middle of the race. Outside of that, small hills and a straightaway at the end provided an easier day for the tour’s competitors. In addition to Cavendish’s unexpected finish, sprinter Peter Sagan failed to start the race on stage 12, eliminating him from the tour. Sagan, who dominated the green jersey for the better part of the last decade, dropped from the race due to ongoing knee pain since stage 3. Despite Cavendish running away with the green jersey competition this year, it is now unclear who will be dominating the sprints in years to come.
Stage 13 ended up being the stage that Cavendish would tie the stage victory record, claiming his fourth victory in the 2021 edition of the tour. This stage was another sprinter-friendly course, starting with the only climb of the day, a category four climb spanning 5.5 kilometers. The sprint challenge occurred at the 95th kilometer of the course, and small hills and valleys were scattered throughout the rest of the stage. A sprint at the finish provided the British sprinter his closest win of the season, while Deceuninck-Quick Step teammate Michael Mørkøv held off Belgian cyclist Jasper Philipsen to round out the top three. All jersey holders remained the same, featured by Tadej Pogacar wearing yellow.
Cavendish’s victory came at a prime time of the tour, as stage 15 featured scattered climbs and little room for sprinters’ success. The stage spanning from Carcassonne to Quillan included two category three climbs and three category two climbs. The stage concluded downhill with Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands crossing in first, notching the second win of his Tour de France career. The king of the mountains competition switched gears with Nairo Quintana surrendering his polka dot jersey to Canadian racer Michael Woods, who led across a mountain summit once and grabbed second place three times on Saturday afternoon.
At the end of the week, Tadej Pogacar holds his place atop the overall standings heading into week three of the tour, while Mark Cavendish holds nearly a 100 point lead on the second place sprinter. Michael Woods carries a 4 point lead over Quintana for the king of the mountains title, and the young rider doesn’t look to change for quite some time, with Pogacar leading in that category as well. Team Bahrain Victorious of Bahrain has a 13-minute edge in the team rankings, but the tour still has one week remaining until heading into Paris.
As we saw Mark Cavendish match history, we wonder if he will get the opportunity to break the tie within these last stages of the grand tour. The future of cycling seems to be in good hands, and viewers will likely see the youth on the big stage riding on the Champs-Élysées.
All statistics, results, and up-to-date data and reports were found on the tour’s website.
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