Tour de France 2021: 6 Days in Yellow
The race that captivates the world began again on Saturday 26th June. Let’s take a look at what happened in the first week.
The start of the 108th
Tour de France
brought with it an air of excitement and trepidation. Alpecin-Fenix would make their debut during this edition and coming with them was a team with talent bursting at the seams. Other Canyon teams included Movistar and Arkea-Samsic.
In the leadup to the race, Alpecin-Fenix shared a common goal of celebrating MVDP’s late grandfather, the famous French cyclist Raymond Poulidor. The team unveiled a new purple and yellow kit they’d wear to pay homage to the successful Frenchman who missed just one prized possession from his palmares: the yellow jersey.
Movistar hoped to build on Enric Mas’ success in the Vuelta a Espana last year and catapult him into the running for the General Classification (GC). Arkea-Samsic brought a strong team with Warren Barguil, Nacer Bouhanni and former Tour de France runner-up Nairo Quintana.
The first week of the Tour de France gets underway
The race began in Brest where the peloton lined up in anticipation of the punchy bergs of Brittany. With high hopes for claiming the coveted yellow jersey, Alpecin-Fenix laid it all on the line. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain as the current world champion Julian Alaphilippe punched the air in Landerneau. Enric Mas finished 15th, Nairo Quintana 17th and Mathieu van der Poel 20th.
Emotions ran high on the start line of the second stage. MVDP’s hunger for the yellow jersey was evident and with just 18 seconds between him and the ultimate achievement in road cycling, the team had their work cut out on the 183.5 km stage.
The stage ended in a crescendo with two ascents of the brutal Mur de Bretagne, a steep 2 km climb that peaks at 12%. Van der Poel attacked on the first ascent to claim the bonus seconds available at the summit to close that 18 second gap between him and Alaphilippe. Viewers at home watched in awe as the Tour de France debutant appeared to burn all his matches a little too early with one remaining ascent of this nail-biting climb to go. As Mathieu van der Poel retreated to the peloton to recover with his teammates, Nairo Quintana made his move and viewers diverted their attention to the Colombian veteran. He was quickly reeled back in by Mathieu.
As the peloton reached the foot of the Mur de Bretagne one final time, it was now or never for MVDP and he chose now. With just 600 metres to go, MVDP clenched his teeth, gripped his handlebars and lit up the race to fight for victory. Glory was his. Pointing his finger to the sky, Mathieu van der Poel became the leader of the Tour de France after stage two.
Mathieu van der Poel claims the yellow jersey
In an emotional post-race interview, MVDP confessed that his grandfather was in his thoughts as he crossed the line and it was easy to see that more than anything in the world, Mathieu wished he could’ve been there to watch his grandson claim what Poulidor never did.
The very next day, Mathieu wheeled out his new yellow Aeroad prepared especially for when he triumphed in the early stages. Not a team to become complacent, Mathieu was back to it working for Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen in the upcoming sprinting stages.
Canyon 1-2-3 on Stage 3
It looks like the power of the yellow Aeroad seeped into other bikes on stage three of the Tour de France. An exciting and fast stage saw Alpecin-Fenix take a 1-2 with Tim Merlier and Jasper Philipsen respectively and coming home in third place was none other than Nairo Quintana.
We didn’t have to wait very long for another podium majority either. Stage four became a bunch sprint for the who’s who of power. Mark Cavendish beat Nacer Bouhanni and Jasper Philipsen by not much more than a wheel length while the likes of Peter Sagan, Michael Matthews and Andre Greipel were left in their wake.
Time Trials and Tribulations
Pundits of the Tour de France hedged their bets that MVDP could lose the yellow jersey on stage five of the race given other riders in the GC are stronger than him in time trials. Critics of the Dutch rider’s ability were soon eating their words after a very impressive fifth place. Tadej Pogacar’s win in the time trial meant Mathieu had just an eight second lead on the Slovenian on GC. The following stage was once again a sprinting stage, so it was unlikely that Pogacar could contest the yellow jersey just yet.
Alpecin Fenix Collection
Philipsen sprints to second
Stage 6 turned out to be a masterclass in sprinting with both Alpecin-Fenix and Deceuninck-Quickstep showing the rest of the peloton how it’s done. MVDP pulled on the front in the last couple of kilometres in hopes his teammate could cross the line first. It wasn’t to be due to Cav’s hunger for stage victories and Philipsen missed out by not much more than a cat’s whisker for his third visit to the podium this Tour.
The longest Tour de France stage for 21 years
The first hilly stage came on stage seven between Vierzon and Le Creusot and the question on everyone’s lips was how MVDP would fare in the mountains. Could he keep the jersey for one more day?
They say attack is the best form of defence and with the stage destined for a breakaway, MVDP opted to join in the fun at the front for a big chunk of the stage’s 250 km. It’s not every day you see the yellow jersey in a breakaway!
His time in the breakaway paid off as he pushed the gap between him and Tadej Pogacar out to over 3 minutes - a great move with the mountains looming ever closer.
Going down with a fight
After the energy used in the previous couple of stages to hang on to the yellow jersey and the start of the mountains proper on stage 8, MVDP only had one option: survival. With three first category climbs in the second half of the stage, it would be a mighty challenge for Mathieu and the team to pull off to keep the jersey from swapping shoulders.
A strung out peloton saw riders spread out over five different groups. The most action began in the final 35 km as riders ascended Le Grand Bornand with Mathieu eventually conceding defeat. Just moments later, Tadej Pogacar seized his opportunity and attacked the peloton chasing down over 3 minutes to claim victory. In the end, he snatched the jersey and with it a lead of almost two minutes.
Mathieu made his mark
He wasn’t expected to hang on to the jersey for as long as he did yet Mathieu didn’t give up easily. He knew he had his work cut out the further into the high mountains the race got. That he led the Tour de France for six days in his debut appearance is an achievement that will go down in history and one that will inspire for generations to come.