Words by William Fotheringham | Photo by SWpix.com
The good, in order of obvious goodness:
Tadej Pogacar. A far more assured three weeks for his second Tour than for his first, backed by a team which, while not comparable to the armadas that supported Chris Froome at Team Sky, was still able to do what was needed when it was needed. The second Tour is the point at which a racer moves from possible fluke to assured champion; many take one Tour, few add a second. The only speck of dust in the Pog-UAE 2021 vintage was stage seven to Le Creusot; they needed a rider in the day’s big split, and without one were forced to waste valuable energy keeping the move within reach. And the most impressive thing about Pogacar’s No2: it came after winning Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Mark Cavendish. Not even the glitch which happened on the Champs Elysées can detract from Cav’s fabulous Tour. For a rider who didn’t know he was riding 10 days before the Tour started, four stage wins was an outstanding outcome, so too the joint stage win record with Eddy Merckx. Cav can stop now, his career complete. But he probably won’t, and why should he?
2022: when there will be a first stage of a Women’s Tour de France on the Champs Elysées, followed by a week’s racing. You can’t see how this won’t be a game changer. And honestly, the world of cycling has waited long enough for ASO to make a definitive move on this.
Mathieu van der Poel. His stage win at Mûr de Bretagne was a classic piece of racing from the VDP copy book, so too his lead-out the following afternoon at Pontivy to secure Alpecin-Fenix a second stage win in two days with Tim Merlier. The bravura with which he took the final double bend was quite something.
Insane attacks. Van der Poel on day two; Van Aert smashing the move clear en route to Le Creusot; a whole load of bright sparks at kilometre zero in the cross-wind on the road to Nîmes; Alaphilippe at the start of the Ventoux stage; Nils Politt and company on the Libourne stage. And various others, all of whom made for a Tour which was truly compelling at times.
David Gaudu. From vomiting on the Ventoux to pressing hard in the Pyrenees. How could anyone not be impressed? And an honourable mention to all those who stuck their necks out and didn’t get any reward.
Teams that didn’t meet up to expectations: BikeExchange, Ineos, Astana, DSM, Israel-Start Up Nation.
Teams that more than met up to expectations but are being looked into by the police (although nothing incriminating has been found): Bahrain Victorious. And please don’t start me on Matej Mohoric’s zip it gesture.
The Omi and Opi placard. It was an appalling moment. All the worse because there is very little any organiser or rider can do to prevent this kind of idiocy. At times like this, I wondered if I didn’t prefer the Tour in a sort of 2020-style semi huis clos.
Initiating legal action against the Omi and Opi placard holder, then dropping it. Can’t we just be consistent?
The Tokyo Olympics: Too close to the Tour, leading to (notably) Mathieu van der Poel disappearing after a week. You can see why he would do that, but it’s reasonable to argue it isn’t healthy for the Tour.
La Course by le Tour de France: a great finale, and a great winner in Demi Vollering. But the insanely early start time underlined that this is a race which has always teetered on the edge of being a tokenistic afterthought and occasionally gone over it (I remember one edition where there were rightful complaints about a lack of actual changing rooms or toilets). It won’t be much missed.
Crashes. Simply too many. You can argue all you like that there are or aren’t more than there used to be; I thought there were no more than usual on the first weekend but began to have second thoughts when they were still toppling like flies in week two. But the fact is the guys were still falling off 48 hours from Paris having flipped over like a stack of dominoes time and again in Brittany, not to mention the massively destructive crash en route to Carcassonne.
Crashes deprived the 2021 Tour of: Tony Martin, Peter Sagan, Primoz Roglic, Caleb Ewan, Simon Yates and many others. You can’t argue the pile-ups didn’t materially affect the race. Horror is reasonable, answers, not so simple.
Teams that engaged in bizarre tactics that indicated they had less than zero notion how to deal with the Pog phenomenon: Ineos. Plan A: put five riders on the front and get them driving. Plan B: see Plan A. At times, it looked straight out of the 90s “punishment for not being in the break” playbook. Zero risk, minimum reward.
And finally, to end on a Good, Bad, Ugly theme… the coffin full of dollars that Clint and company dig up in the cemetery in Sergio Leone’s classic western:
Wout Van Aert, and the rest of Jumbo-Visma’s “fab four”: Sep Kuss, Jonas Vingegaard, Mike Teunissen. To respond as Jumbo-Visma did having lost their leader Primoz Roglic and half their team was outstanding, an object lesson in balancing risk and reward. Sending Van Aert up the road en route to the Ventoux and Sep Kuss and Van Aert up the road en route to Andorra was risky on paper, but amply rewarded. Van Aert’s weekend double outlined his status as cycling’s consummate all-rounder – a Sean Kelly for the 21st century with cyclo-cross as his added strong suit – but in the Champs Elysées win the work of his lead-out man Mike Teunissen more than merits a mention. Four stage wins and second overall after being deprived of your leader on day two is quite the result for any team.