The yellow jersey again strengthened his grip on the classification lead with a searing summit sprint and his Tour de France defense looks a definite. This year’s tour may have become a race for second-place, but there’s still a huge amount at stake as riders race for a potentially career-defining result.
💛🤍🇪🇨 The podium of the #TDF2021 is taking shape!
— Tour de France™ (@LeTour) July 14, 2021
Jonas Vingeagaard and Richard Carapaz have split themselves away from a trio of pursuers after their toe-to-toe skirmish with the peerless Pogačar. Carapaz and Vingegaard look to be on the road to the podium in Paris, but nothing is guaranteed with another summit finish and a time trial still to come before the processions and party in Paris.
GG after stage 17:
- Tadej Pogačar: GC leader
- Jonas Vingegaard: +5:39
- Richard Carapaz: +5:43
- Rigoberto Urán: +7:17
- Ben O’Connor: +7:34
- Wilco Kelderman: +8:06
Those vying for the top slots come from opposite ends of their career and ride for teams of vastly different ambitions.
So what would a Tour de France top-three mean for our five podium-chasers?
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma)
Jonas Vingegaard is doing what Tao Geoghegan Hart did at the 2020 Giro d’Italia.
Like Geoghegan Hart did in Italy, Vingegaard started the Tour as a domestique looking to learn the ropes behind a veteran team captain. And now with four stages to go, Vingegaard leads the chase for second place and looks by far the strongest climber behind Pogačar.
It's a second place for Vingaard behind stage winner Pogacar. What a fighting spirit and performance of Jonas 💪👏
— Team Jumbo-Visma cycling (@JumboVismaRoad) July 14, 2021
Tour de France rookie Vingegaard has shaken the pressure of the sport’s biggest race off his shoulder with ease, and he’s looking every bit a star for the future. Jumbo Visma may have its present with Primož Roglič, Tom Dumoulin, and Steven Kruijswijk, but at 24 years old, Vingegaard will very much move into the center of his team’s future.
Vingegaard again proved Wednesday he has the climbing legs to beat Richard Carapaz, and certainly has the TT engine to overhaul the Ecuadorian on Saturday. Even if he slips off the podium in a late-race implosion, the young Dane has emerged as Jumbo-Visma’s newest grand tour hope.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)
Carapaz has conqured the Giro and placed second at the Vuelta a España behind Primož Roglić. A top-three in his second-ever Tour would be huge for Carapaz. However, it might get lost in the reeds of his ultra-prolific grand tour-conquering Ineos Grenadiers superteam, which goes to the Tour to win the Tour.
Great ride @RichardCarapazM! 👏
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) July 14, 2021
Nonetheless, for Carapaz to again deliver a grand tour podium behind the peloton’s Slovenian supremos shows Carapaz has the heft to win a second grand tour at some point soon.
The Ecuadorian played a taut tactical game on the Portet as he gambled it all on one explosive push. It didn’t work out and stood in contrast to Carapaz’s typical marauding style, but the 28-year-old remains firmly in the template of David Brailsford’s vision for his team’s attacking future.
A spot on the podium in Paris would cement Carapaz at the top of Ineos’ over-heavy leadership hierarchy along with fellow South American Egan Bernal and would reaffirm him as one of the best GC racers of the current crop.
Ben O’Connor (Ag2r-Citroën)
Ben O’Connor started this year’s Tour so far off the radar that he was almost in another atmosphere.
The young Aussie first showed promise in 2018 before losing the wheels through 2019. A standout 2020 Giro d’Italia saw O’Connor land a contract with Ag2r-Citroën and reappear in the world’s conscience. But nobody, not even O’Connor himself, would have seen a Tour de France top-three as a possibility.
🇫🇷 – @LeTour
Au bout de l’effort @ben_oconnor95 termine 5ème de cette incroyable étape. 🔥
— AG2R CITROËN TEAM (@AG2RCITROENTEAM) July 14, 2021
At just 25 years of age and with a contract through 2024 in his pocket, O’Connor has a lot of life left in his legs. Anything within the top-six would see O’Connor revive his French squad’s grand tour hopes after the exit of Romain Bardet and see him fill the space in Australian hearts that Jai Hindley grabbed at the 2020 Giro d’Italia.
O’Connor was able to outclimb nearest rivals Rigoberto Urán and Wilco Kelderman on the Portet on Wednesday and he looks well-positioned to sit in the top six come Paris. It would make for one of the stories of the Tour.
Rigoberto Urán (EF Education Nippo)
Urán has taken second the Tour and twice finished second at the Giro d’Italia. Add that to a bucketload of grand tour top-10s and Urán has a lengthy palmarès befitting his status as the daddy of those pushing for the podium.
Urán is now facing the prospect of a battle for fourth after losing the wheels when the race heated up in the final 8km Wednesday.
Anything less than a top-three might initially seem a disappointment for the 34-year-old, a result relegated down a long list of achievements. However, a top-five would still make a huge statement.
Mijitos lista la primera semana quedan otras 2 😂😬🙏 pic.twitter.com/Mv9MgTqGaM
— Rigoberto Urán ЯU (@UranRigoberto) July 4, 2021
Urán rose to the top of the GC pack through the middle of last decade before a string of injury-stricken races and near-misses left him in the shadows.
Some thought Urán’s time for grand tour glory was done, but another top finish would see the veteran succeed where fellow old-timers like Geraint Thomas, Vincenzo Nibali, and Jakob Fuglsang have struggled in recent seasons. A podium finish would be a victory, while fourth or fifth would be a much-welcomed par.
Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe)
Wilco Kelderman has done nothing to grab anyone’s attention at this year’s Tour, but the Dutchman has been a steady, solid presence in the top of GC since day one.
— BORA – hansgrohe (@BORAhansgrohe) July 14, 2021
Backing up a standout Giro d’Italia campaign that almost ended with victory with a top-five at the Tour would mark Kelderman as more than a one-race wonder, and would hand his best-ever finish in France.
However, it seems almost unthinkable that Kelderman will move onto the podium unless he trounces the field in the TT. Just like his tenacious ride to sixth place on the Portet, Kelderman’s Tour hasn’t been spectacular, but it’s been effective. Both he and his team will take that.