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Throughout the Tour de France, former VeloNews editor John Wilcockson is profiling the unlucky riders who are forced to abandon, either due to injury, exhaustion, or bad luck. In this column, Wilcockson writes about Dutch rider Jasha Sütterlin.
Jasha Sütterlin is a strapping 28-year-old German cyclist (just over 6 feet tall and weighing in at 171 pounds) from Freiburg in Breisgau. That’s a university city of a quarter-million people on the western edge of the Black Forest – where Sütterlin often goes training.
“I’ve been on my bike since I was a child,” he recently told a German website. “Even then, my biggest goal was to become a professional cyclist. Since my father was also a cyclist and took part in the Olympic Games in Mexico in 1968, he was and is a great role model for me. From the under-11s on, my path was very consistent up to the U23 level in the Thuringian Energy Team. Then the first thing I did was get an offer from Movistar, which I finally accepted, and was able to start my professional career.”
Sütterlin spent six years on the Movistar Team – and as a result, he says he’s better known in Spain than Germany. With the Spanish squad, he earned a bronze medal in the team time trial at the 2015 Richmond worlds and won a stage (with a late solo attack) at the 2017 Vuelta Comunidad de Madrid.
He also finished second to Tony Martin in three consecutive editions of the German national time trial championship. But, most of his time with Movistar was spent on domestique duties for Alejandro Valverde and Nairo Quintana, whether at one-day classics, weeklong stage races, or grand tours.
“There is nothing better for me than to push the body to its limits,” he said. “It pushes me again, and again to see a high speed on the speedometer.”
Sütterlin moved to Team Sunweb last year, and in the COVID-hit season, he placed top 10 in his last three time trials (at the Tour of Slovakia, BinckBank Tour, and Vuelta a España). His Vuelta ended with leading out teammate Max Kanter to take third place, behind top sprinters Pascal Ackermann and Sam Bennett, in the mass-sprint finish in Madrid; Sütterlin hung on to take fifth place.
This year, in the rebranded Team DSM, he earned his spot on the Tour de France squad with a solid performance at the Tour de Suisse. This would be his second time at the Tour; the first was with Movistar four years ago.
Talking about that 2017 Tour, Sütterlin said, “When you’re at the start, it’s an amazing feeling. But then, of course, you also want to get to Paris. I’m a year older and started cycling earlier than Rick Zabel. But we grew up doing sports together. And although he rode for a different team, we made it to the finish in Paris together, and he was the first one I hugged because we’d both made it.”
Sütterlin was the only German selected for Team DSM’s 2021 Tour squad. His job on stage 1 was to help his team leaders, perhaps leading to a top stage placing for its Belgian puncheur Tiesj Benoot on the hilltop stage finish. But those plans suddenly fell through 151 kilometers into the stage when Jumbo-Visma’s Tony Martin collided with a handwritten cardboard sign held up by the infamous spectator and triggered a domino effect that took out half the peloton. Of the 188 riders, only one could not continue: Jasha Sütterlin.
Describing the incident to German television, Martin said he was at the front with all his Jumbo-Visma teammates.
“I wanted to overtake my team-mate Robert Gesink on the right,” he said. “I saw that [the spectator] was holding something in her hand, but that often happens on the Tour. You have to assume that she will move to the side. Otherwise, we have to give every fan a wide berth, and then we won’t do anything else here.”
Martin said he noticed that the spectator’s attention was not on the field, but on the TV motorcycle, but he could no longer avoid hitting the sign: “There was no space and no reaction time for me. I raced in there and had no chance.”
With about 90 riders and bikes toppled on each other, it was a wonder that no one was worse injured. That included Sütterlin, who suffered a badly lacerated wrist.
He said in the hospital: “I can’t really move my right wrist, so it was impossible for me to carry on today. It’s a good thing that nothing is broken, but I can’t say more than I’m really disappointed to go home. I wish the rest of the guys the best of luck for the Tour.”
A couple of years ago, Sütterlin said, “I love cycling and that’s my life. I turned my hobby into a profession, and I want to live this as long as possible. Cycling is the coolest sport of all because it takes place on the road and you don’t fight the others. The only opponent you have in cycling is yourself. And anything can happen. You never know exactly 100 percent what to expect.”
Certainly, nobody expected a female fan holding a cardboard sign to bring down half the peloton on the opening stage of the Tour de France.
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The Tour’s Lost Boys: Three riders were forced to abandon the race on stage 1: Sütterlin; Frenchman Cyril Lemoine of B&B Hotels-KTM (four broken ribs, cut behind the right ear and a collapsed lung); and Lithuanian Ignatas Konovalovas of Groupama-FDJ (concussion). Spaniard Marc Soler, one of the Movistar Team’s top climbers, could not start stage 2 after bravely finishing stage 1 (with two fractured elbows). And three riders were forced to abandon the race on stage 3: Australian Jack Haig of Bahrain Victorious (broken collarbone); Dutchman Robert Gesink of Jumbo-Visma (concussion and broken collarbone); and Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan of Lotto-Soudal (broken collarbone). As a result, the Tour’s 184-strong starting field has been reduced to 177.