Image: Wikimedia Commons / Chabe01
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Chabe01

Pogačar en route to second Tour de France victory

Defending champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) is in the yellow jersey after the first week of the Tour de France and has shown impressive skills in the Alps to establish himself as the main favourite to win the race.

The Slovenian rider’s biggest rival, his compatriot Primoz Roglič (Jumbo-Visma), left the race after injuries in a crash on stage three caused him too much pain when riding.  

In 2020, it was Roglič who led for most of the three-week event, before Pogačar took the lead on the penultimate day with a monumental time-trial effort and became the first Slovenian rider to win cycling’s biggest race. 

British team Ineos Grenadiers, formerly known as Team Sky, fielded an extremely strong line-up for the race, with four riders potentially being able to fight for the top standings, including two from Great Britain. 2018 Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas and the best rider in the 2020 Giro d’Italia, Tao Geoghegan Hart, were joined by 2019 Giro d’Italia victor Richard Carapaz from Ecuador, as well as the strong and consistent Tasmanian Richie Porte. 

Crashes and time losses in the first week, however, meant only Carapaz can still challenge for a podium spot, as he sits fifth in the general classification. 

Other favourites still in contention for the top standings include Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo), Enric Mas (Movistar Team) and Wilco Kelderman (Bora-hansgrohe). 

Australian rider Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroen Team) is currently a surprise second, while young Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) managed to successfully take over from Roglič as leader of his team and sits fourth. However, both will need to show good form in the upcoming mountains and time trial to keep their positions.  

The 108th edition of the Tour de France began with four stages in Brittany, with the first two designed to test the riders on uphill finishes before two opportunities for the sprinters. The riders then rode diagonally through France towards the Alps, tackling an individual time trial on stage five. 

Although the field was split more than expected after the opening three stages, this was sadly the result of crashes, often blamed on tricky run-ins and high nerves in the peloton. As the riders were all on the same time in the general classification, many wanted to ride at the front of the group to avoid time losses, bunching the field even tighter than usual. 

Two of the sprint stages were won by Mark Cavendish, who somewhat surprisingly returned to winning ways

One of the crashes was caused by a spectator carrying a large placard who carelessly stepped onto the road. The piece of cardboard was in the way of German rider Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma), who fell and brought down many others with him. 

The fan was later arrested as the police opened a criminal investigation into the matter due to the injuries sustained by riders, though the complaint from race organisers Amaury Sport Organisation was eventually withdrawn. 

Two of the sprint stages were won by Mark Cavendish, who somewhat surprisingly returned to winning ways at the Tour de France after a few challenging years marked by injuries and difficulties in finding top form. The Manxman’s last victory in the race came in 2015, and he was only included in the line-up of his Deceuninck–Quick-Step team at the last minute, replacing injured Irish sprinter Sam Bennett. 

As Roglič lost time on the weekend, Pogačar thrashed the field on stage eight, heading into Le Grand Bornand, beating his fellow GC specialists by about three minutes thanks to an attack thirty kilometres before the end. 

He later solidified his lead on Sunday by a further thirty seconds and now leads O’Connor by two minutes and one second. Uran is third, but his five-minute deficit may be too big to make up. 

The second week includes a stage around the mythical Mont Ventoux, a climb that will be ascended twice in one day for the first time in Tour de France history.

Moving along the south, the riders will then venture into Andorra for stage fifteen and will spend three further days in the Pyrenees after a rest day. 

Here the race should be decided on the steep and challenging mountain-top finishes of Col de Portet and Luz Ardiden. A 31-kilometre time trial in wine-producing areas near Bordeaux will be the last competitive stage on Saturday 17 July, before the traditional final stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris the following day. 

The opening weekend also saw the eighth edition of La Course by le Tour de France, the women’s race that typically accompanies the men’s race for a day. It was won by Dutch rider Demi Vollering in a sprint from a group of eight after a race on a hilly circuit around the town of Landernau. 

This is set to be the last edition of the female one-day race, as a women’s Tour de France is due to be brought back in 2022.

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