The exhibitions continue at the Tour de France
Following Tadej Pogačar’s outstanding and historic ride yesterday, stage nine was the turn of Ben O’Connor.
The Australian began the day 8-13 down on GC and probably thought that a top-10 in the overall race would be his main target now.
But then this is the 2021 edition of the Tour de France and strange things keep happening.
O’Connor made it into the day’s massive breakaway that totalled almost 50 riders, and then a group of five that went clear.
On the climb of Cormet de Roselend, O’Connor was at the head of the race with Nairo Quintana and Sergio Higuita, and despite being dropped on the descent, he rode back to the Colombians and then distanced them with apparent ease as they climbed to Tignes.
The 25-year-old soloed to a phenomenal stage win, winning by a massive five minutes and seven seconds that elevates him to second on GC, just 2-01 adrift of Pogačar.
It was a remarkable ride from O’Connor demonstrating that he is one of the strongest climbers in the race, but also that he is prepared to take risks and race hard to achieve his ambitions.
Pogačar may well be insurmountable, but O’Connor is in the race for a spot on the podium, sitting more than three minutes better off than Rigoberto Urán, the man in third.
Another day, another ride for the history books.
Tadej Pogačar looks truly unbeatable
The Slovenian’s immense effort yesterday clearly wasn’t too taxing for him as today he was just as fresh, putting yet more time into all of the GC riders, with the exception of O’Connor who won’t have been considered a threat before the day’s start.
Richard Carapaz attacked Pogačar in the final few kilometres of the climb to Tignes, but just like all of his moves in this first week, it didn’t pay off as Pogačar calmly waited 30 seconds before counterattacking with a huge acceleration.
The 22-year-old surged clear within a matter of seconds and no one even attempted to cling onto his wheels, accepting their fate that they are not able to match his pace.
Come the finish line, he had put in an extra 32 seconds to Carapaz and Rigoberto Urán and now is 2-01 ahead of O’Connor, with a gap of 5-18 to Urán. Carapaz is fifth at 5-33.
Pogačar is in such imperious form that it’s hyperbole or even insult to others to suggest that he could win this race by more than 10 minutes.
We are witnessing a ride for the ages.
Intriguing tactics and performances throughout the peloton
It’s common knowledge that UAE Team Emirates don’t provide Tadej Pogačar with the support he probably deserves, but then with his talent it doesn’t matter anyway.
Once again, though, his team’s tactics were curious, with them putting every rider on the front of the peloton for the entire stage – until the final climb when they were all so tired and exhausted that they were unable to assist their leader when it most mattered.
There are two ways of looking at it: they managed to keep Ben O’Connor out of yellow, but then should that ever have been an option in the first place.
And while controlling the race is the duty of the team represented by the yellow jersey, it’s not the best idea to work your riders so hard they all fall away before the final climb.
The former experts in controlling this race, Ineos Grenadiers, then set the pace on the ascent to Tignes, with Pogačar comfortably sitting in their wheels. Another strange tactical decision.
While the British team were unable to isolate the leader, it was pleasing to see Geraint Thomas riding well once more, the Welshman at the head of proceedings, a far cry from his horror show 24 hours earlier.
A special mention must also go to Sonny Colbrelli. The Italian champion claimed 20 points in the intermediate sprint as he attempts to win the points classification, but rather than sit up, he spectacularly rode the day in the breakaway and finished third.
Colbrelli, as a reminder, is a sprinter, yet he finished in the top-three on a brutally tough mountain stage. An incredible performance.
Nairo Quintana takes the polka dots
It always takes a week to get going due to the mountains never usually arriving until the first weekend, and after Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) ignited the race yesterday by claiming the lead, today the fight continued.
Poels was one of the riders in the large breakaway and he attacked to claim an additional 16 points.
But the Dutchman was outdone and has transferred the polka dots to Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), the winner of the classification in 2013.
The Colombian scooped up 36 points across the day’s five categorised climbs and now sits on 50 points, eight better off than Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) in second.
As the race makes its way south towards Mont Ventoux and then to the Pyrenees, it promises to be a fascinating sub-plot in who will get their hands on the mountains jersey.
Quintana looked spent in the final 20km of today’s race, understandable after his efforts and sprinting for points, but he remains one of the world’s best climbers and will back himself to repeat his triumph from eight years ago.
Mathieu van der Poel and Primož Roglič headline list of riders quitting the race
The horrible weather that plagued the entire stage paved the way for a number of abandonments, just a day before the race’s first rest day.
Before the stage got underway, Primoż Roglič announced that he wouldn't take to the start, his injuries from his stage three crash too much.
And then Mathieu van der Poel, resplendent in his racing kit, rode to the start and informed the media that he was quitting, the Dutchman opting to recover from the memorable past eight days and focus on the Olympic Games.
Van der Poel was in the race lead for six days after his stage two win, but having ceded the yellow jersey to Tadej Pogačar on Saturday, the Alpecin-Fenix man packed his bags and is on his way home.
During the stage, his team-mate Tim Merlier followed suit. Winner of stage three, Merlier was seen as a major rival to Mark Cavendish in the green jersey competition, and the Briton’s chances of winning the classification for a second time received a boost with the news.
Jasper De Buyst of Lotto-Soudal also handed back his race numbers, and as did Ag2r Citroën’s Nana Peters.
UAE Team Emirates’ Brandon McNulty had a nasty-looking crash when he rode himself off road on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend. The American, however, did finish the stage.
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1