Roglič had been a top favourite for the yellow jersey before he crashed twice, just as Sagan had been favoured to win the points classification a record eighth time. But the Bora-Hansgrohe rider also crashed early in the race, after being taken down by another green jersey favourite, Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Soudal.
Ewan dropped out immediately, having suffered a fractured collarbone, but Sagan appeared to have come out of the crash without injury. Apparently, that was an illusion, for he was virtually invisible during the race, with just three top 10 stage finishes to his credit. Normally, he would have been actively challenging on the intermediate sprints and vying against the pure sprinters on the hillier stages, but he was never in play.
Unfortunately @petosagan couldn't take the start of stage 12 at the @LeTour today due to a knee injury. 😔
All the best and recover well mate! 🤞🍀
We'll keep on fighting here for you! #bandofbrothers pic.twitter.com/CeC34ogMnl
— BORA – hansgrohe (@BORAhansgrohe) July 8, 2021
Neither was his team, who seemed to be avoiding their star rider, and he them. Perhaps that was because of the reports claiming that Sagan was close to signing with Team TotalEnergies. And maybe that was the real reason he left the Tour, to announce the divorce. The official reason was knee pain due to bursitis, and it’s certainly possible that the crash with Ewan in stage 3 aggravated the condition.
But was it just coincidence that Bora-Hansgrohe registered its first stage win, thanks to an impressive solo escape by German rider Nils Politt, on the day Sagan left the Tour? We’ll never know, but there was surely more going on than met the eye.
🎙 „it‘s the biggest thing you can win in cycling, a dream coming true.“ – @NilsPolitt
come with us behind the scenes and celebrate yesterday’s stage win @LeTour 🎉#TDF2021 #BORAhansgrohe #BandOfBrothers pic.twitter.com/CemPYgXvAc
— BORA – hansgrohe (@BORAhansgrohe) July 9, 2021
What a scenario for Mark Cavendish, who is in the Tour only because Bennett dropped out due to a training injury and is now rid of the two strongest remaining rivals for the green jersey. All he has to do to wear it on the podium in Paris, it now seems, is to finish the race.
That may be more difficult than it sounds. His Deceuninck–Quick-Step team worked very hard on the previous mountain stages to make sure that Cavendish did not exceed the time limit on finishing the stages. But tougher mountain stages lie ahead.
He and his team are also focused on Cavendish breaking Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 Tour stage victories, which would be a historic accomplishment. The 36-year-old Cavendish now has 33 Tour stage wins. After the 12 stages now run, only three remain that are suited to sprinters, two of them after the Pyrenees.
If Cavendish and Deceuninck–Quick-Step want to win the green jersey and break Merckx’s record, they will have to survive the three upcoming mountain stages. Both accomplishments are certainly possible. Cavendish has a big points lead over his closest green jersey rival, Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange), 221 to 162, with Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) at 142 and Sonny Colbrelli (Team Bahrain Victorious) at 138.
Matthews must consider himself fortunate to be in that position because he could very well have been docked points for flagrantly swerving across the road during an intermediate sprint on stage 9 and nearly pushing Colbrelli into the barriers. Commentators are still perplexed why the race commissioners took no action.
If Cavendish does not make it over the mountains in time, any one of these riders could win the green jersey. The racing has been very fast and very hard, and the collateral damage has been huge. So anything can still happen. But of the green jersey contenders not named Cavendish, Colbrelli has looked the strongest.