The battle-weary peloton rolled into Paris on Sunday night and drew a close to the 2021 Tour de France.
It was a race of unlikely comebacks, astonishing stage wins, and one dominant GC force. Here’s what the race’s key players had to say after stage 21 of the Tour de France:
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates): GC winner
Tadej Pogačar stomped all over the Tour de France as he defended his 2020 title.
Pogačar punched to the top of the GC at the end of the first week, and from there on, his yellow jersey rarely looked under threat. With three stage wins – the stage 5 time trial and the two Pyrénéan summit finishes – Pogačar was ruthless in his march through France.
Pogačar finished with a monster 5:20 lead and looked imperious throughout. It made for a stark contrast to his victory last year, where he threatened throughout but only claimed yellow on the final stage
Is this the start of the “Pogačar era?” Could be. Look to the Olympic road race and a possible Vuelta a España start for clues.
On winning the yellow jersey: “It is just crazy here on the Champs-Élysées, coming in the yellow again with an incredible team. We enjoyed today and now it’s time for celebration. We will have a good time and that counts as a celebration. I will remain motivated in the coming years, but what comes next will come next … I’m not stressed about it.”
On his emotions compared to his 2020 victory: It’s quite different. Last year, I felt strong, incredible emotions. This year I’m again here, standing atop the podium, but the feelings are quite different.
On comparisons to Eddy Merckx: The new Cannibal? I don’t like to compare myself to other riders. Each rider has his own style and personality. Every rider is unique. I don’t think there is anything left. I just enjoy life, I work hard, I love cycling – and those are the most important things.”
Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step): Points classification leader, 3rd on the stage
34 Tour de France stages
2 #TDF2021 Green Jerseys
Ladies and gentlemen, the one and only @MarkCavendish!
— Deceuninck-QuickStep (@deceuninck_qst) July 18, 2021
Comeback king Mark Cavendish was denied a dream 35th Tour de France victory Sunday after being outkicked by Wout van Aert. Nonetheless, Cavendish scored four stage victories and landed his second-ever green jersey in what was the first Tour he completed since 2015.
Less than one year ago, Cavendish was seen as a faded force. The past three weeks in France have proven that the 36-year-old still has a lot of life left in his legs.
Will Cavendish be back to fight for a record-breaking 35th Tour victory next year? Let’s see if team boss Patrick Lefevere renews his contract first.
“I’m very happy. One month ago I wasn’t supposed to do the Tour de France and now I am here, after three weeks that will live long in the memory. I never imagined I would be again wearing green on the Champs-Élysées, but here I am, thanks to the amazing riders and staff of Deceuninck-Quick-Step. They were a big part of this success and together we’ve been through so many emotions.
“For me, to be back at this race that I love so much and do what I did was a dream. I am incredibly happy that I have my family here, as I haven’t seen them in the last five weeks and it feels great to share with all of them these unforgettable moments.”
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma): Stage winner
Wout van Aert completed an incredible hat-trick of stage wins Sunday. Van Aert was first to the line in the Champs-Élysées sprint, completing a trio of victories across mountain, time trial, and sprint stages.
Van Aert had started the Tour behind on his training after an appendix surgery earlier in the summer and was downcast when he missed out on seizing the yellow jersey in the opening weekend. Victories in the most iconic sprint of the sport and over the mythical Mont Ventoux should be ample consolation.
After riding himself into imperious form through the past three weeks, van Aert has become one of the top contenders for the Olympic time trial and looks a very good bet for the road race.
On comparisons to Eddy Merckx’s ruthlessness and versatility: “I heard that one coming. I guess it’s the same comparison that journalists made to Cavendish when he won number 34. It’s impossible: Eddy Merckx won the GC of the Tour five times and he won basically every race in the world of cycling. I’m just a really little cyclist compared with Eddy. I’m just proud of my own performances.”
On his Olympic ambitions: “I guess I’ll try to win both [the road race and TT], but of course it’s going to be really difficult. Though for now, I’m still overwhelmed by the victories of this weekend.”
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma): Second on GC
Jonas Vingegaard was the revelation of the Tour. At 24 years old and racing his debut Tour de France – only his second-ever grand tour – the Dane pivoted from being a late replacement for Tom Dumoulin to becoming an outright GC contender.
Vingegaard almost accidentally worked his way up the GC after Primož Roglič was forced out of the race due to injury. His attack over the Ventoux proved the one move that Pogačar struggled to parry, and Vingegaard kept attacking from there on, fending off a challenge from third-place Richard Carapaz and punching his ticket as another top Gen-Z talent.
“If someone had said to me a month ago that I would come second in the Tour, I wouldn’t have believed them. I never expected a podium place in my first Tour and I still don’t quite believe it. I came to the Tour as a replacement for Tom [Dumoulin] and as Primož’s helper. I had to stay in the classification as long as possible to be able to play multiple cards if necessary. Unfortunately, we lost Primož in the first week. That gave me a chance and it’s great how it worked out.
“We kept fighting as a team. In the second week, we won two stages and I moved up to the top of the rankings. We started to believe in it more and more. In the third week, things went well for us again and a podium place came into sight. To finish on the podium in the Tour de France is a dream come true. I am very happy with that.”
Rigoberto Urán (EF Education Nippo): 10th on GC
Seguimos en las montañas mijitos pic.twitter.com/92pRfKnFMt
— Rigoberto Urán ЯU (@UranRigoberto) July 12, 2021
Rigoberto Urán came oh-so-close yet oh-so-far to matching his career-best second-place Tour de France finish this year. The Colombian veteran sat poised in second overall through the second week only to crumble out of contention in the two consecutive Pyrenéan summit finishes last week.
While a top-10 at the Tour de France is a huge achievement in itself, “Rigo” may have been hoping for more from his eight Tour start. Urán is one of many that is now be jetting out to Tokyo for the Olympic Games.
“I felt really good this year, I thought I would be on the podium because I felt good every day and the team is a phenomenal team. In the end, I don’t know what happened, my body didn’t respond as I had hoped. I had a really bad day. So many things had already happened and the team had done the work, so it’s difficult.
“The Tour de France is really complicated. In the end, we’re human and that’s not an answer as to what happened, but the only thing you can do is to try to finish well, to honor your teammates, and to prepare yourself for the next race.”