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TOUR’21 BREAKDOWN: The Crazy Opening Weekend!

An explosive first two days

TOUR BREAKDOWN: The 2021 Tour de France has started with a bang. The organizers pulled no punches for the opening weekend, which saw multiple high-speed crashes, explosive uphill finishes, and some fairly significant GC gaps.

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A stunning first stage win for the World champion

After Julian Alaphilippe schooled him on en route to an impressive long-range solo victory on the uphill finish on the opening day, Mathieu van der Poel, racing in his Tour debut, responded in kind by winning on stage 2 with a powerful attack on the brutally steep Mûr-de-Bretagne. Due to some deft racing on the first ascent of the Mûr, Van der Poel took enough bonus seconds to take the Yellow Jersey from Alaphilippe, which held extra significance for Van der Poel, since his recently deceased grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, one of the best French riders of all time, never wore the jersey despite finishing on the Tour podium on six occasions.

Stage 2 for Van der Poel

In the fight for the GC, the two strong Slovenians, Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič, have already proved themselves to be a cut above the others and already possess somewhat significant leads over the third-best GC rider due to their ability to grab time bonuses via podium finishes in the explosive sprints. While they have both appeared strong enough to potentially contend for the win on both days, their extreme preoccupation with each other means neither is willing to play their cards just yet.

Pogačar and Roglič are well to the fore

GC Top Ten Following Stage 2:
Mathieu Van der Poel +0
Julian Alaphilippe +8
Tadej Pogačar +13
Primoz Roglič +14
Wilco Kelderman +24
Jack Haig +26
Bauke Mollema +26
Sergio Higuita +26
Jonas Vingegaard +26
David Gaudu +26

Filtered GC Standings:
Pogačar +0
Roglič +1
Kelderman +11
Jack Haig +13
Richard Carapaz +18
Geraint Thomas +28
Richie Porte +2’55

Clever move by Van der Poel on Stage 2

Top Takeaways:

Stage Wins
Both stage wins came from incredible individual performances from Alaphilippe on stage 1 and Van der Poel on stage 2. Strangely, both winners have appeared both unstoppable and extremely fallible over the course of a single weekend.

  • On stage 1, Alaphilippe’s win was incredibly impressive. He dropped the best one-day riders in the world after crashing earlier in the stage, grabbed his 6th career Tour stage win, and the race’s first Yellow Jersey. What was most impressive is that while he could have sat in and attempted to snipe a sprint win in the final 200 meters, he somewhat unnecessarily attacked near the bottom of the 3km-long climb and put on a highly impressive show.
  • On stage 2, Van der Poel appeared to be simply oozing with power on the incredibly hard Mûr-de-Bretagne climb to the finish line. When he attacked at 35 km/h on a 9% slope 700 meters from the finish line, there was nothing anyone could have done to stop him. Additionally, his smart and gusty riding earlier in the stage meant he got enough bonus seconds to take the Yellow Jersey on his second-ever Tour stage.
  • Israel Start-Up Nation had two great chances to win stages with Mike Woods and Dan Martin on both stages 1 & 2, but positioning has been a major issue. This is likely partly related to their road captain, Chris Froome, simply not being strong or skilled enough to fight for position and get them to the front during key moments.

The Tour hasn’t been great for Chris Froome so far

GC Winners & Losers

The Winners
Roglič and Pogačar are clearly on another level than every other GC contender. They simply don’t care about any other riders and potentially could have caught Van der Poel if they would have worked together. They appeared to pull back a significant amount of time in the final few hundred meters, but, with each one so worried about each other that neither wanted to expose themselves.

  • I’ve never seen a GC battle so animated so early in a Tour. While Rog and Pog are holding their cards close to their chests, they are clearly both holding back for Wednesday’s time trial, when serious gaps can be opened.
  • What is so shocking to me is that even though the Slovenia duo is ignoring the rest of the field and holding back to mark each other, they are still distancing themselves from the rest of the GC contenders.

The difference in Roglič and Jumbo’s strategy from 2020 is stark. While Jumbo took control of the race from stage 1 and Roglič went all-out to win the early uphill finish on stage 4, he is riding a shockingly reserved race so far in 2021. He has been glued to Pogačar’s wheel, not his own teammates, at every critical moment of the race, and appears to be happy to ride Pogacar to a draw on the road stages while waiting to take time in the time trials.

  • This strategy is driven by both choice and necessity. Jumbo simply doesn’t have the strength to attempt to control the race like they did in 2020.
  • It is worth noting that they have Jonas Vinegegaard sitting 9th overall. I expect them to preserve Vinegegaard’s position and attempt to use him as a chess piece to put Pogacar under pressure later in the race.

There were many losers on stage 1

The Losers

Oddly, Jumbo’s weakness could actually hurt Pogacar more than Roglič. As I pointed out in the race notebook, Pogačar’s UAE team has left something to be desired so far. While Pogačar could simply use Jumbo’s train to set him up for attacks in 2020, he has been forced to surf wheels and make big energy investments anytime he has wanted to move up in the pack. This will add up as the race goes on.

  • Making matters worse is that their other star rider, Marc Hirschi, has suffered a dislocated shoulder.

The flaws in Ineos’s strategy and cracks in Thomas’s form are starting to show. Ineos entered the race with four possible leaders but were down to two by the end of the first stage and now don’t have a single rider within 10-seconds of either Roglič or Pogačar.

After Thomas finished ahead of Carapaz on Saturday, he lost 23-seconds to the stage winner Van der Poel on Sunday while Carapaz finished only 2-seconds behind Roglič/Pogačar. Now, the difficult ego balancing act begins.

Also, we continue to see just how important time bonuses can be. Geraint Thomas has only lost 17-seconds on the road to Pogačar, but currently sits 28-seconds back after only two stages due to his inability to compete in the bonus sprints.

  • Making matters worse, Ineos worked all day on stage 2, took responsibility for a lot of the pacemaking, and got nothing out of it. This commanding strategy will take its toll as the race progresses.
  • Most concerning is just how tired Porte and Thomas looked setting pace at the base of the Mur while the pack behind looked to be unbothered. It may sound unkind, but frankly, they both looked old for the first time in their careers.
  • And what the first two stages have shown is that while they can set a hard pace at the bottom of the climb but will always lose out to the stronger riders.
  • Watching Porte and Thomas be shuffled back on the Mur felt like we were watching an older generation being overtaken by the surging youth wave.

INEOS Grenadiers’ best placed rider – Richard Carapaz

The Fight for Green

Michael Matthews had a tough day at both the intermediate sprint point and on the final climb, but the Australian is quietly putting together a promising Green Jersey campaign. He is currently sitting in third place behind Van der Poel and Alaphilippe, but with Van der Poel planning to leave the race early, and Alaphilippe sure to miss out in the bunch sprints, Matthews could emerge as the biggest challenger to Ewan and Sagan.

Speaking of which, Sagan has looked surprisingly subpar so far this Tour and I’m starting to doubt if he can mount a serious Green jersey campaign. On the flip side, Sagan tends to thrive later in the race when the others like Ewan and Matthews start to struggle.

Matthews started stage 2 in Green

# Spencer Martin is the author of the cycling-analysis newsletter Beyond the Peloton that breaks down the nuances of each race and answers big picture questions surrounding team and rider performance. Sign up now to get full access to all the available content and race breakdowns. #

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