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.
Perhaps, two weeks in, more star riders have left the race or been eliminated from contention than at any other Tour de France.
When the race began on June 26, Europe’s main sports newspaper, L’Équipe, issued its traditional list of favorites. For the yellow jersey, it made Tadej Pogačar and Primož Roglič the joint favorites (with five stars); next came Geraint Thomas (three stars); Richard Carapaz, Rigoberto Urán and Miguel Ángel López (two stars); and Nairo Quintana, Richie Porte, Simon Yates and Julian Alaphilippe (one star).
Also read: The 19 Lost Boys of the Tour de France
The paper also mentioned the possibility of Peter Sagan winning an eighth green jersey title, and Mark Cavendish needing four stage wins to equal the Eddy Merckx record of 34. Yes, Pogačar is leading the race and Cavendish has equaled Merckx’s record, but only two of the other 10 riders mentioned has met expectations: Urán and Carapaz. At the same time, no less than six top stars have quit.
Of the nine men tipped to challenge Pogačar for the yellow jersey, López and Porte lost too much time in crashes on the opening stage; Thomas dislocated his shoulder on stage 3 and soon ceded leadership of Ineos Grenadiers to Carapaz; Quintana missed the early split on stage 7 and lost almost 20 minutes; Alaphilippe decided to shoot for stage wins rather than GC once the race hit the mountains; and Roglič and Yates both left the race because of crashes.
Jumbo-Visma team leader Roglič started the Tour strongly by finishing third on the opening two stages’ hilltop finishes. He then crashed at high speed in the last 10 kilometers of stage 3, losing more than a minute and lots of skin. Covered in cuts and bruises and nursing an injured back, he soldiered on, taking a remarkable seventh place in the stage 5 time trial; but after finishing minutes behind the other GC leader on stages 7 and 8, he did not start stage 9.
“I was in a lot of pain. It was just too much for my body,” he said.
If he recuperates in time, Roglič will bid for Olympic golds at the road race and time trial in Tokyo. Remarkably, his 24-year-old Danish teammate Jonas Vingegaard—who finished 46th in his only previous grand tour (the 2020 Vuelta a España)—has emerged as one of Pogačar’s chief opponents.
As for Yates, who crashed out of the Tour in a large pileup toward the end of stage 13 into Carcassonne, he lost three minutes because of the stage 1 crashes; and had already decided to wait for the mountains with a view to winning a stage. The best he came to that goal was the first stage in the Alps; he got into the early break but missed the attack that earned Dylan Teuns the victory and ended up in sixth place that day.
The stage 13 crash happened about 60 kilometers from the finish when several riders skidded on loose gravel on a fast downhill. Yates was diagnosed with abdominal wall trauma, but he hopes to get back to training before contesting the Olympic road race in Tokyo on a course that suits the Briton’s qualities.
While Mathieu van der Poel wasn’t considered a candidate to win the Tour, his victory on stage 2, continued aggressive racing and a run of six days in the yellow jersey set the tone of this Tour’s debilitating nature. After losing 20 minutes on the first Alpine stage, the Dutch phenom did not start the next day. He planned to rest for a week, train hard at an altitude camp and then fly to Tokyo in a bid to win an Olympic gold medal in the mountain bike cross-country.
Van der Poel’s Alpecin-Fenix teammate Tim Merlier, a green-jersey candidate who won stage 3, dropped out the same day. He said he was incapable of following the pace set by the gruppetto with 70 kilometers still to race on a day of continuous rain and cold temperatures.
“I don’t want to blame the weather conditions,” he said. “I was just empty at that moment. I was emotional when I got off my bike because I immediately thought about the sprint on the Champs-Élysées — I’ll come back to the Tour to do that sprint in Paris.”
The stage that Merlier won in Pontivy also featured the crashes that eventually eliminated two other potential green jersey contenders: Arnaud Démare of Groupama-FDJ and Sagan of Bora-Hansgrohe. Not fully recovered from the high-speed crash inside 5 kilometers to go of stage 3, Démare was dropped from the gruppetto on the apocalyptic stage 9 and finished four minutes outside the time limit. “It’s cycling, and we know that the Tour is unforgiving,” he said. As for Sagan, he did not start stage 12 after struggling with knee pain ever since his spectacular crash with Caleb Ewan in the stage 3 sprint that eliminated the Aussie with a broken collarbone.
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The Tour’s Lost Boys: Following the 19 who dropped out before the rest day in Tignes, Jonas Koch of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert did not start stage 10 because of sickness. On stage 11, seven riders abandoned the race: Victor Campenaerts of Qhubeka-NextHash (fatigue); Tiesj Benoot of Team DSM (suffering from crashes earlier in the race); Tony Martin of Jumbo-Visma (concussion and cuts after crashing 30km into the stage); Dan McLay (fatigue) and Clément Russo (back pain from an earlier broken rib), both of Arkéa-Samsic; Miles Scotson of Groupama-FDJ (sickness and heatstroke); and Tosh Van der Sande of Lotto-Soudal (fatigue). Luke Rowe of INEOS Grenadiers (fatigue) finished six minutes outside the time limit of that stage. Sagan did not start stage 12; and five riders did not finish stage 13 because of crashes: Michael Gogl of Qhubeka-NextHash; Roger Kluge of Lotto-Soudal; and Lucas Hamilton and Yates of Team BikeExchange. Because of their injuries from crashes, Warren Barguil of Arkéa-Samsic and Søren Kragh Andersen of Team DSM did not start stage 14. So, prior to stage 15, the Tour’s 184-strong starting field has been reduced to 149.