Mathieu van der Poel extends his advantage
Well, we didn’t expect Mathieu van der Poel to keep the yellow jersey beyond the time trial on stage five in the Tour de France 2021, but the Dutchman continues to defy the odds and amaze fans, this time by extending his race lead on stage seven.
The longest day of the 2021 Tour started with a huge battle to get in the breakaway, with 50km of flat out racing before a huge 29-rider group went up the road.
With almost every team represented in the break, the chase fell to UAE Team Emirates, who found themselves in the awkward position of having to hold the break close by burning up their riders early in the stage.
Meanwhile, the elite breakaway group continued to grow their advantage with some star names making it clear of the peloton, including race leader Mathieu van der Poel and green jersey leader Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck - Quick-Step).
Going against Tour tradition by jumping into the breakaway while wearing yellow, Van der Poel showed he plans to shake up the race. It was the first time the race leader has ridden in a breakaway since the 2018 Tour, when Greg Van Avermaet tried to hold his doomed yellow jersey for another day.
The Classic-style length and parcours made stage seven well-suited to Van der Poel, who made the most of the opportunity as the breakaway extended its advantage to over five minutes out on the road.
Into the final, Van der Poel let the stay win slip away as he focussed on holding his yellow jersey, eventually forming an alliance with his usual rival Wout van Aert to gain as much time as possible.
Van der Poel eventually finished fourth on the stage, 1-40 behind winner Matej Mohorič, but it was another huge performance in his yellow jersey defence, as he gained more than three minutes on the GC favourites.
Heading into another tough climbing day on stage eight, Van der Poel has 3-43 over the leader in-waiting Pogačar - can he hold on another day?
Richard Carapaz’s ambitious attack gains nothing
While the climbs on stage seven were far from the biggest in this year’s Tour - the longest being just 4.7km - they were still brutally tough, and they came thick and fast.
While the GC riders were mostly desperate to maintain position heading into the first weekend, Richard Carapaz seized an opportunity and put in a big attack on the penultimate climb, Signal d’Uchon, 16km from the finish.
The Ecuadorian, racing in Ineos Grenadiers colours, looked imperious as he powered clear of the gradient near the top of the climb and at one point had around 90 seconds over Pogacar and company.
It was an exciting GC element in another battling stage, but things suddenly flopped inside the final 200m, when it emerged that Carapaz had been comfortably caught by the Pogačar group, completely neutralising any gains he had made.
The attack was a lot of effort for zero reward, but hopefully it doesn’t dissuade Carapaz from livening up the action again this weekend.
Tactical nightmare for Pogačar as teams utilise the breakaway
Stage seven opened with fireworks, as just about every team wanted to get their riders into the breakaway, with attacks coming thick and fast.
After the first hour of racing at 50km/h+, the elastic finally snapped and the break was formed almost by accident.
The circumstance was far from ideal for UAE Team Emirates, the squad with the most to lose as their leader in-waiting Tadej Pogačar is looking good for a second consecutive Tour de France win.
With so many teams up the road in the breakaway, sole responsibility for the chase fell to UAE, who were forced to burn up riders early on the try and keep the break within a manageable distance.
If any other GC teams want to expose weaknesses in Pogačar, they need to utilise tactics like this to reduce the number of team-mates the young Slovenian will have in the mountains, potentially isolating him.
Despite the best efforts of UAE, the breakaway still built an advantage of over five minutes, which let some big riders claw their way back into the general classification fight, most notably Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo).
While Nibali hasn’t won a Grand Tour since the 2016 Giro d’Italia, he’s still not a rider you want to let loose in the mountains.
As the stage came to a close, Nibali had picked up almost 1-20 on Pogačar and the GC leaders, propelling himself right back into the GC fight, jumping 13 places in the overall classification to slip in between Alaphilippe and Pogačar.
Nibali is now sixth overall, 30 seconds behind Pogačar
While the day was far from disaster for Pogačar, it still exposed some potential cracks within UAE Team Emirates that could be exploited later in the race.
Rare moment in cycling as Primož Roglič dropped
One of the most rare phrases in cycling: ‘Primoz Roglič is dropped.’
In fact I can’t remember the last time Roglič lost a race purely from cracking under the pressure from a GC group (and obviously discounting the 2020 Tour de France time trial), but stage seven was one of those rare moments.
The Slovenian machine has been suffering from an injury he sustained in a crash on stage three of the Tour, when he went down in the final 10km of the chaotic sprint stage.
While he was able to minimise his losses in the stage five time trial, looking solid on the bike against the odds, Roglič’s injuries reared their head again on stage seven.
On the penultimate climb of the day, Signal d’Uchon, Roglič lost contact with the GC group and very quickly looked like he was in trouble, as the cuts, bruises, and lower back problems took their toll.
By the finish, Roglič was almost four minutes behind the Pogačar group, effectively ending his general classification hopes.
This is a big disappointment not only for Roglič himself, but also for the fans, as we may rue the loss of the main challenger to Pogačar if the young superstar runs away with the race.
Meanwhile, Geraint Thomas suffered his own moment on Signal d’Uchon, also losing contact with the GC group near the summit.
Fortunately the Ineos Grenadiers co-leader was able to manage his effort in the final 200m of the climb and get back into the group, avoiding any losses.
Thomas has been suffering after he dislocated his shoulder on stage three and hopes his condition will improve, but he’s admitted he’s not sure how it will impact him during this weekend’s tough mountain stages.
Mohorič seals the grand slam
Matej Mohorič’s reputation always precedes him, the Slovenian is the perpetual attacker in any race.
While the 26-year-old is almost habitually off the front in the toughest races on the calendar, his palmarès has never matched his bravado.
But on stage seven, Mohorič elevated his reputation yet again with the biggest victory of his career.
Having picked out just two stages he could possibly win in this year’s Tour, Mohorič found himself in the break on the perfect day, the longest stage of this year’s race with some tough climbs to neutralise the threat of Mathieu van der Poel and Wout van Aert.
Mohorič attacked 20km from the finish and was the first rider to crest the penultimate climb and it was the perfect effort, as the breakaway rivals were either unable or unwilling to chase.
As the tears began to flow for the Slovenian national champion in the final kilometre, Mohorič was aware that this was the biggest moment of his career.
Mohorič now has stage wins in all three Grand Tours, which means a Monument is the next addition to his list of 13 wins.
With fifth place in 2019’s Milan-San Remo and fourth place in Liège-Bastoge-Liège last season, it may only be a matter of time.
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