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The Tour de France is never without drama, and this year has been no different.
Rarely do we see lawsuits threatened against fans — but in 2021 it seems that anything can happen. At the end of the day, France had everything to cheer for as stage favorite and world champion Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) destroyed his rivals on the steep final climb of the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups.
But the very next day, Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) set out on a solo mission to grab ahold of the yellow jersey in honor of his late grandfather and French cycling great, Raymond Poulidor. There has been plenty of drama already in this year’s Tour, but behind the scenes, there have been some crazy power numbers.
Here’s what it takes to win atop a steep, final climb at the Tour de France.
The 2021 Tour de France began in Brest, with a 198km stage that included five categorized climbs littered throughout the day: the Côte de Trébéolin, Côte de Rosnoën, Côte de Locronan, Côte de Stang Ar Garront, Côte de Saint-Rivoal, and then Côte de la Fosse aux Loups.
Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-NextHash) took the first polka dot points of the Tour on the Côte de Trébéolin. And not long after, the break of the day went clear containing Franck Bonnamour (B&B Hotels), Cristian Rodriguez (Team Total-Énergie), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic), and Ide Schelling (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Not much happened for the next 100km, which is a rare thing to say at the Tour de France.
Tim Declercq (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) sat on the front of the peloton for the majority of the stage, keeping the breakaway’s gap under three minutes in the hopes that his teammate Alaphilippe would take the yellow jersey at the end of the day.
Schelling attacked the breakaway with about 80km to go, but the next incident of note came at 45km to go, when a spectator and her sign took down Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) and nearly the entire peloton with him. Primož Roglič, Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Miguel Ángel López (Astana-Premier Tech), Chris Froome (Israel Start-Up Nation), and Italian Champion Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Victorious) were just a handful of the biggest names that went down. Deceuninck-Quick-Step called an unofficial truce for everyone to catch back on, before the mass chase ensued.
With 7.5km to go, the majority of the peloton went down in another crash, this time at high speed. Big names like Mike Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), Brandon McNulty (UAE-Team Emirates), and Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) all went down, and would lose minutes by the end of the stage.
Up ahead, Deceuninck-Quick-Step moved to the front of the peloton to lead out race favorite Julian Alaphilippe. The finish line came at the top of the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups, which averages 5.7 percent for 3.1km – the first half of the climb averages over 8 percent, and this is where the world champion made his move.
The biggest names in cycling were on Alaphilippe’s wheel when he attacked with 2.3km to go. Van Aert, Colbrelli, van der Poel, Roglič, and last year’s Tour champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) could only watch as the Frenchman powered away at over 7.5w/kg.
In Colbrelli’s power file, we can see that he was pushing over 600w to stay with the Deceuninck-Quick-Step leadout in the first 1.3km of the climb. And when Alaphilippe attacked, the Italian champion couldn’t even hold the wheel ahead of him.
Colbrelli – Côte de la Fosse aux Loups:
Average Power: 416w (5.8w/kg)
First 1.3km in the main group: 435w (7.4w/kg)
Roglič, Pogačar, and Pierre Latour (Total-Énergies) attempted to bridge across to Alaphilippe, but no one could even get close to the world champion as he rode away to the stage win. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech) stayed tucked in the front group for the entire final climb, crossing the line in 14th at the day, and over 10 seconds after Alaphilippe. As the climb leveled off to 3 – 4 percent in its second half, we can see how much easier it was in the group for Lutsenko.
Lutsenko – Côte de la Fosse aux Loups:
Average Power: 497w (7.1w/kg)
Normalized Power: 525w (7.5w/kg)
First 1.3km: 3:12 at 558w (8w/kg)
Using time checks, percent gradient, speed, and VAM (Vertical Ascent in Meters) we can get a rough estimate of Alaphilippe’s power when he dropped the best (or second-best) puncheurs in the world on the Côte de la Fosse aux Loups.
Alaphilippe – Côte de la Fosse aux Loups:
Estimated Average Power: ~470w (7.6w/kg)
First 1.3km: 2:53 at 558w (9w/kg)
Churning 9w/kg for nearly three minutes, and over 7.5w/kg for nearly six minutes — Alaphilippe is clearly the best puncheur in the world. With Stage 2 finishing atop the Mûr-de-Bretagne – a steeper and tougher climb with an average gradient of 6.9 percent – the maillot jaune on the shoulders of Alaphilippe would surely be crossing the line first. Right?
Mathieu van der Poel had other plans.
Stage 2 finished with two ascents of the Mûr-de-Bretagne, a two-kilometer long, Classics-style climb that’s been used in the Tour thrice before. Cadel Evans, Alexis Vuillermoz, and Dan Martin are the three previous winners, and everyone was picking Alaphilippe to take the 2021 edition.
But on the penultimate climb of the Mûr with 18km to go, van der Poel attacked out of the peloton in pursuit of eight bonus seconds at the top of the climb. It was always van der Poel’s plan to wear the yellow jersey – his grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, is known as the “The Eternal Second” for twice finishing second, and three times finishing third in the Tour de France, and having never worn the yellow jersey. At just 18 seconds behind Alaphilippe at the start of the stage, van der Poel knew he needed a monstrous effort (or two) to claw back enough time to take the maillot jaune.
No one reacted when van der Poel attacked with 1.7km to go the first time up the Mûr-de-Bretagne. American Brandon McNulty drove the pace at the front of the peloton, setting up an attack by Pogačar to take the second place time bonus just behind van der Poel.
McNulty – first ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne:
Average Power: 520w (7.5w/kg)
It all came back together over the top of the climb, and after a quick descent and a bit of flat, the peloton was back on the Mûr-de-Bretagne for the second and final time. Richie Porte (Ineos Grenadiers) led the peloton with teammate Richard Carapaz on his wheel, and then it was Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) who attacked with 1.7km to go.
Van der Poel closed the gap himself, and then Colbrelli went over the top. Van der Poel closed again, and he was clearly a man on a mission. Just as Pogačar and Roglic bridged across, van der Poel attacked again, going clear from the peloton with just over 700m to go.
Carapaz bounced between fifth and tenth wheel for the majority of the climb, pushing over 500w (8.3w/kg) just to stay in the wheel. Jack Haig (Bahrain-Victorious) and Lutsenko finished at the same time as Carapaz, crossing the line in 10th, 16th, and 12th, respectively. They all lost 10 seconds to van der Poel, who won the stage and took the yellow jersey from Alaphilippe, while Pogačar and Roglic completed the podium in second and third.
Carapaz (12th) – second ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne:
Average Power: 467w (7.8w/kg)
First 700m: 2:00 at 519w (8.7w/kg)
Haig (10th) – second ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne:
Average Power: 525w (7.5w/kg)
Lutsenko (16th) – second ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne:
Average Power: 527w (7.5w/kg)
On a day when everyone expected Alaphilippe to win in the yellow jersey, Mathieu van der Poel pulled off one of the most amazing solo feats we’ve seen in recent years. Not only did he attack and win a Tour de France stage atop the Mûr-de-Bretagne, but he did that after making the same effort just a few kilometers earlier. 8w/kg for four minutes is impressive enough, but to do it twice in twenty minutes, at the end of a 190km Tour de France stage… is absolutely insane.
Van der Poel – first ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne:
Estimated Average Power: ~600w (~8w/kg)
Van der Poel – second ascent of the Mûr-de-Bretagne:
Estimated Average Power: ~608w (~8.1w/kg)