“I’m not happy — I feel sad that I didn’t win,” Hirschi said. “I feel not good. I feel sad.”
It’s easy to understand Hirschi’s sadness. Riding in his Tour de France debut, Hirschi made the day’s early breakaway with 100 or so kilometers remaining in Sunday’s mountainous stage. When that move was brought back by the peloton, Hirschi kicked again on the slopes of the Col de la Hourcere, and with 80 kilometers to go was off the front by himself.
Getting Hirschi into a breakaway was Sunweb’s only objective for the day. On stage 2 Hirschi showed his top form at this Tour de France by following an attack by Julian Alaphilippe and then finishing second on the stage.
“The goal today was to get Marc in the break,” said Matt Winston, Sunweb’s coach. “It was a super hard start and the guys did a great job in keeping the pressure on to get Marc in the right move.”
For the next 75 kilometers Hirschi pushed up and down the steep climbs without the benefit of a draft. His advantage grew to more than four minutes at one point, as behind the GC stars cooled their legs for the upcoming fight on the Col de Marie Blanque.
Like all breakaways, however, Hirschi’s move was hardly guaranteed to work. While he hit the base of the Marie Blanque with four minutes in hand, the gap rapidly tumbled as the GC stars sprinted up the steep climb.
“We knew that I have to focus on my plan because I knew I can’t influence what the peloton do,” Hirschi said. “The only thing I could do was to go as fast as possible to the finish.”
Attacks from Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) drew out the strongest riders in the front group on the steep climb, and the moves also cut into Hirschi’s advantage. He crested the climb with less than 30 seconds on the group behind.
Hirschi descended the climb and began pushing himself on the flat 9-kilometer run-in to the finish. Inside 3km to go Hirschi looked back and saw the chasers just a few seconds behind. Rather than push on, he decided to stop pedaling and wait for the front group, opting to try his hand in the sprint.
“We committed to the finish and the gap came down pretty quick when the chasers were working for GC,” Winston said. “He waited and gambled in the sprint.”
Hirschi rode in the slipstream of Bernal and Mikel Landa, and skipped pulls in the final two kilometers. With Roglič pulling toward the line he launched his sprint first, and appeared to have the stage in his hands. At the last moment, however, Hirschi’s legs seemed to buckle, and Pogačar and Roglič surged past him at the line.
“I’m now two times really close, and again I get beat really close,” Hirschi said. “I’m happy with my form.”
Despite the loss, Hirschi has established himself in this Tour de France as a breakout star with two close calls. Along with American Nielson Powless (EF Pro Cycing) and Toms Skujins (Trek-Segafredo), Hirschi has been a familiar presence in the long breakaways. He’s the Under-23 road world champion from 2018, and he seems to be on a trajectory for Tour de France succcess.