Tadej Pogačar (unsurprisingly) has all-but won the Tour de France
It seemed entirely possible that the Slovenian superstar could have pulled off another stunning performance reminiscent of his stage five TT, where he won the stage and put himself in position to take over yellow, but instead the effort of the last three weeks finally showed and Pogačar rode to ensure he won the overall title.
This late in the race, it’s no surprise that Pogačar was comfortably able to secure the overall victory after the 30km time trial however, as he went into the day with almost six minutes to Jonas Vinegegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in second.
But don’t let Pogačar’s comfortable position heading into this TT take away from the 22-year-olds achievement, as he has effectively secured his second Tour de France title (barring any disasters in the processional sprint stage on Sunday).
Having become the youngest post-war winner of the Tour de France last year, his debut in the race and only his second ever Grand Tour, Pogačar cemented his position with a devastating control of the 2021 race.
Pogačar has never finished lower than third in a Grand Tour after his Vuelta a España debut in 2019 and has now won two back-to-back Tours de France.
With three stage wins in this year’s Tour, Pogačar has overcome his rivals in a way we haven’t seen for a very long time.
In the last 10 years, Chris Froome has been the centre of attention in the Tour de France, as fans have speculated about whether he could join the elite club of five-time Tour winners, but with Pogačar’s last two performances we’re now asking the question, when will that record be broken?
Jonas Vingegaard secures his podium as Carapaz claims third
Jonas Vingegaard is the real deal.
In the 24-year-old, we may have found the next big Grand Tour contender, as he has continually proven he has all the talents he needs to win a three-week race.
On the stage 20 time trial, Vingegaard showed composure beyond his years as he went into the stage in second place with just a six-second lead over Richard Carapaz in third.
Despite the pressure on his shoulders, Vingegaard rode another outstanding time trial, finishing on the podium just 32 seconds slower than stage winner Van Aert, and comfortably extending his lead over Carapaz.
For Ineos Grenadiers rider Carapaz, it was a big ask for him to ride quicker than Vingegaard over 30km as he does not thrive in the TT, but his overall performance in this year’s Tour de France is still commendable.
The winner of the 2019 Giro d’Italia was a constant attacker in the mountains and tried everything to try and overcome both Vingegaard and Tadej Pogačar.
His third-place finish is still a historic moment, as Carapaz is the first Ecuadorian to ever make the podium of the Tour de France.
Since his Giro win, Carapaz has now been second in the Vuelta a España and third in the Tour, cementing his position as one of the strongest GC riders in the world.
But what can he do to combat the might of the two Slovenians, Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič?
No shake-ups in the top-10
As the top-10 in general classification came to the line in the stage 20 time trial, it became very clear that there would be no shake-up in the yellow jersey race.
With some significant time gaps in the top-10 heading into the TT, it’s no surprise that the general classification battle was not the most enthralling on stage 20, and there was no chance of a repeat of the almost unimaginable turnaround from last year’s Tour time trial.
Behind the podium, Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroen) cemented a remarkable fourth-place finish in his first Tour de France, all set up by his breakaway stage win on stage nine in Tignes, as Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) wasn’t able to match his podium from the 2020 Giro, finishing fifth overall in this year’s Tour.
For French fans, Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) put in a solid time trial to become the best-place rider from the host nation in Paris, finishing eighth overall.
Meanwhile David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) wasn’t able to overpower Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) in the TT and was forced to settle for 11th, while Urán will be disappointed to have slipped from second place overall to 10th in the final week of the Tour.
Perhaps what is most striking about this year’s top-10 is the time gaps, as Pogačar’s nearest rival is 5-20 ahead of Vingegaard - the biggest winning margin since Vincenzo Nibali took victory by 7-37 in 2014.
The gap between first-place and 10th is also staggering - 18-34 sit between Pogačar and Urán in tenth place, which is again the biggest margin since 2014, when Bauke Mollema finished 21-25 behind Nibali.
Wout van Aert is truly back
We’ve seen multiple versions of Wout van Aert in this year’s Tour de France, but after the stage 20 time trial we’ve seen the return of the most familiar of his many faces - the winner.
Van Aert came into the 2021 Tour de France undercooked after undergoing surgery for appendicitis a month before the start, which derailed his training.
While that lack of form didn’t stop him winning the Belgian national championships on the eve of the Tour, he clearly wasn’t at his best when the Tour got underway in Brittany, as he wasn’t able to keep up with the likes of Mathieu van der Poel and Julian Alaphilippe in the early stages.
Van Aert put in a strong ride on the stage five time trial, but only finished fourth after being one of pre-race favourites for the stage win, before we began to see a glimmer of the old Van Aert on stage seven to Le Creusot where he and Van der Poel renewed their rivalry in a breakaway as they battled for the yellow jersey,
We then saw Van Aert the bunch-sprinter on stage 10, where he finished behind Mark Cavendish in Valence, followed one day later by his remarkable stage win after two ascents of Mont Ventoux on stage 11.
Then in the stage 20 TT, Van Aert was back to his best in arguably his strongest discipline, the race against the clock.
Van Aert flew to his second stage victory of this year’s Tour, beating his nearest rival Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck - Quick-step) by 23 seconds over 30km.
This is a promising/ominous omen with just two weeks until the Olympic time trial in Japan, where Van Aert is one of the favourites to medal along with the likes of Filippo Ganna, Stefan Küng and his Belgium national squad team-mate Remco Evenepoel.
Absolute heart-break for Stefan Küng
What does Stefan Küng have to do to win a stage of the Tour de France.
The European time trial champion went into stage 20 as one of the clear favourites for the stage, after his outstanding performance on the stage five TT, which saw him only beaten by the superhuman performance of Tadej Pogačar.
In the final TT, Küng will have been hoping to fly through the 30km course near at his almost-best power, allowing for the three weeks of intense racing, while Tadej Pogačar’s speed should have slipped after he was forced to defend his yellow jersey in the mountains.
Küng had been able to spend the final week of the Tour recovering as best as he possibly could, ever since his breakaway effort and fourth-place finish on stage 12.
The Swiss pro was flying through the opening sector of the course, setting the fastest time at the first checkpoint by 10 seconds after just 7km.
But things began to go awry deeper into his run, as his 10-second advantage to Asgreen had been wiped out by the 20km timing check and in the final 10km Küng only lost more time.
By the finish, Küng was 16 seconds off the pace set by Asgreen, despite having completely emptied the tank and fading mid-way through the course.
Looking absolutely devastated at the finish, Küng must be wondering what he can possibly do to win a TT on the biggest stage.
He now has podium finishes in two World Championships (third in both 2019 and 2020), second place in the Tour de France after stage five, and now fourth on stage 20.
Küng is still in phenomenal shape for the Olympics later this month, but with the likes of Filippo Ganna, Remco Evenepoel and Wout van Aert for competition in Tokyo, he may be forced to accept the win is once again out of reach.
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