Yes, the Tour is always exciting, but what we experienced over the first seven stages was unprecedented. And some of it affected what happened in Week 2, such as the biggest shock of the race so far, the abandonment by last year’s runner-up, Primož Roglič of Jumbo-Visma. The 31-year-old Slovenian, one of the top pre-race favourites, crashed twice during the first three stages of the Tour. His crash in stage 3 was particularly damaging, causing him to lose great swathes of skin from crashing onto the pavement.
Though Roglič managed to hold his own in the stage 4 individual time trial, when the race reached the Alps, in stage 8, the injuries made themselves felt and he finished the stage in last place in the general classification, more than 35 minutes behind the leaders. Still weak and with a Tour victory now impossible, he took the prudent and inevitable decision to abandon the race.
Stage 8 was also important because it illustrated that the 2021 Tour de France is Tadej Pogačar’s to win or lose. It was the first mountain stage of the race and last year’s yellow jersey winner decided during its running to make a statement.
“In the morning we didn’t plan for me to hit hard today,” he said afterwards. “I feel great in this weather and, before the last three climbs, I told my teammates we were going to try and smash the race because I saw everybody was suffering.”
— Tadej Pogačar (@TamauPogi) July 7, 2021
The weather was rainy and cool, and after a strong support ride by UAE Team Emirates teammates Davide Formolo, Rui Costa and Brandon McNulty, Pogačar took off on his own in what amounted to a long solo sprint over the mountains. He finished fourth in the stage, 49 secs behind the winner, Dylan Teuns of Bahrain Victorious. But he finished 4 mins and more ahead of his most serious remaining yellow jersey rivals, such as Richard Carapaz of Ineos Grenadiers (teammate Geraint Thomas lost even more time) and Rigoberto Urán of the EF Education–Nippo team.
It needs to be said that Pogačar’s much maligned team has been one of the positive surprises of the Tour. Unlike last year, when he won the race pretty much on his own, this year he has usually been surrounded by teammates, even on the tougher climbs.
So, this will not come as a surprise to anyone watching the Tour, but – barring injury, accident or illness – the race for the yellow jersey is as good as over. It will also not ruin the race’s excitement since, as we’ve seen so far, this year’s route is a perfect arena for drama of all kinds. But, especially with a good team in support, Pogačar is by far the best rider in the Tour, both in the mountains and in time trials. Only a catastrophic failure can stop the 22-year-old Slovenian.
A word about another terrific rider, Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert. A day after finishing a very close second to Mark Cavendish in Tuesday’s stage 10 sprint, he won the 11th stage, which included two ascents of the legendary Mont Ventoux, soloing over the last 11km of the second ascent.
🤩 When you've just conquered the mythical Mont Ventoux!
🤩 Quand tu as dompté le mythique Mont Ventoux !
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) July 7, 2021
“It’s probably my best victory ever,” the three-time cyclocross world champion said afterwards. “It shows that if you believe in it, everything is possible.”
His Jumbo-Visma team has suffered a lot of bad luck on this Tour, especially through crashes, and they lost another rider, the German Tony Martin, to a crash on Wednesday. But the team was buoyed by van Aert’s stage win and the performance of another young rider, the 24-year-old Dane Jonas Vingegaard, who actually outclimbed Pogačar on the Mont Ventoux (though the Slovenian beat him to the finish line) and now sits third in the general classification, 5min 32sec behind Pogačar. Urán is second at the halfway mark of the Tour, 5min 18sec behind.
Pogačar admitted that he “exploded” when trying to follow Vingegaard, which might have encouraged his rivals if he hadn’t managed to catch up to the Dane and not lose any time to the other GC riders.