Konrad fulfils talent with biggest win of career
Another day, another victory from a spectacular solo attack. Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) took his cue from the many riders who have won stages at this Tour de France with long-range attacks by striking out alone almost 40km from the finish, and holding on all the way to the finish to claim the biggest win of his career.
In what was a tactically intriguing tussle in the breakaway, Konrad stole a march on the other top climber in the break David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) by jumping out of the group into a leading trio who had gone clear earlier. The head start that gave him was enough to set him up for the stage win, as despite producing enough power to drop all but one of the other riders, Gaudu’s attack on the penultimate climb was not enough to bring back Konrad.
It still required considerable effort, and the way Konrad winced as he tackled the following climbs suggested he was hurting. But if he was, it didn’t seem to affect his pace, and he never showed any signs of slowing down as he approached the finish.
Surprisingly for a rider who has long established himself as a top climber, Konrad’s only previous victories had come at the Austrian national championships; despite some top ten finishes on GC at Grand Tours and in some of the most prestigious classics, he’s lacked that something extra required to win more races.
At last, at the age of 29, he has a win on his palmarès worthy of his talent.
Colbrelli wows us again with his climbing
Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) once again wowed us with his newfound climbing ability to finish second on the stage.
Although not quite at the level of Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Colbrelli certainly shares some of the Belgian’s all-round capabilities, and is making a great account for himself at this Tour by climbing remarkably well for a sprinter.
After causing a big shock last week in the Alps to finish as high as third-place on the first mountain top finish of the race, the Italian again ascended today’s climbs better than supposedly superior climbers by being the only man able to stay with David Gaudu’s accelerations.
2021 has arguably been the best season in the 31-year-old’s career, having won a couple of WorldTour victories as well as being crowned Italian national champion, and has been based largely on improved climbing.
The way he’s riding this Tour merits a stage win, but he’s been ill-served by a route that doesn’t play to his strengths; the stages here tend to be either for pure climbers, pure sprinters, or breakaway specialists, with none ending in the kind of reduced bunch sprints te kind of which he won stages at Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de Romandie earlier this year.
Instead, fighting to get into the breakaway has been his best chance to take a stage win, and he tried valiantly again today, and did well to still have the legs to sprint for second from the chasing group.
The remaining stages look like they’re either too flat or too mountainous for him to win, but his race isn’t over yet — his efforts today were enough to move him up to third in the points classification, and he hasn’t given up on the green jersey yet.
Cavendish’s grip on the green jersey loosens
The green jersey competition is still very much alive, as Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) and Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) made big efforts to get into the day’s break and reduce their deficit to Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step)
Despite the many climbs on the parcours, both riders managed to pick up a hatful of points both at the intermediate sprint and at the finish, amounting to 36 for Colbrelli and 35 for Matthews.
In the green jersey, Cavendish instead focussed on preserving as much energy as possible, drifting into an autobus early on with teammates Michael Mørkoov, Davide Ballerini and Tim Declercq for company.
The biggest obstacle between him winning the jersey in Paris had appeared to be whether or not he could finish within the time limit on Wednesday and Thursday’s huge mountain top finishes, and while that remains a considerable danger, Colbrelli and especially Matthews are now a little too close for comfort in the points classification standings.
Should something go wrong for Cavendish on either Friday or Sunday’s sprint finishes, whether in the form of a crash or bad positioning, an opportunity could open up for Matthews, who is now just 37 points behind him, to take the jersey from him. This could be a tense and exciting end to the competition.
No GC action
There are now just two more stages in the mountains left for the climbers to gain time on GC, as everyone at the top of the standings chose to take today’s stage easy and wait for the following two mountain top finishes.
In truth, this parcours never looked especially conducive to attacks from the favourites. Only one of the four climbs tackled was ranked category one, and it occurred early in the stage. And most of the final 30km was either downhill or flat, save for a short, 1km category four climb near the finish.
Despite the relaxed atmosphere in the bunch, that last climb did instigate some surprise attacks, first from ninth-place Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), who was attempting to gain back some of the several minutes he lost yesterday, and then from Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), for more oblique reasons.
It was an entertaining flurry, but didn’t amount to anything, as the GC riders all crossed the line together.
It was an anti-climax for anyone optimistically hoping for GC action, but there will be no such let-down tomorrow — on a climb as fearsome as the Col du Portet, atop which the stage will finish, there is nowhere to hide.
Ineos Grenadiers among teams running out of time
With Patrick Konrad delivering his Bora-Hansgrohe team a second stage win following Nils Politt’s success last week, there remain 15 teams still without a victory at this Tour, including some of the biggest in the race.
Among those teams are Ineos Grenadiers, who are still struggling to adapt to for once not being the team defending the yellow jersey. Rather than repeat their doomed tactics of riding at the front on the climbs, they today showed some intent to go for a stage win, with Michał Kwiatkowski spending some time at the start of the stage in the break.
But when that group was caught, they did not place anyone in the definitive group that got away, meaning another stage has passed without the team achieving any kind of success.
The likes of Astana-Premier Tech and Groupama-FDJ did at least managed to get riders in the break in the form of Alex Aranburu and David Gaudu respectively, but their failure to win the stage means both teams are running out of time to salvage their races.
Expect all of these teams, along with the likes of Movistar, DSM and Lotto-Soudal, to do everything they can to put riders in a position to win on the upcoming Pyrenean stages.
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Stephen Puddicombe is a freelance journalist for Cycling Weekly, who regularly contributes to our World Tour racing coverage with race reports, news stories, interviews and features. Outside of cycling, he also enjoys writing about film and TV - but you won't find much of that content embedded into his CW articles.