Here’s what’s coming up in the final week of the Tour de France
The 2021 Tour de France is now more than two weeks old, but there’s still plenty to look forward to as the peloton prepares to embark on its final stretch of racing.
After Monday’s rest day, six final stages await those still left in the Tour. Those riders will make their way through four days in and around the Pyrenees before heading north for a time trial on the penultimate stage and then a Paris finale. Even with less than a week to go in the race, there are still opportunities that will suit a variety of riders.
Here are five things to look forward to as the Tour draws closer to its conclusion.
The breakaway specialists could contest at least three more stages (at least).
It has been an excellent Tour de France for the breakaway specialists so far. With UAE Team Emirates and the rest of the GC teams seemingly uninterested in reeling in escapees at this Tour, all but two of the last nine stages have gone to breakaways, and those were both flat days for the pure sprinters.
Expect more of the same in the next three days of racing at the Tour. The up-and-down profile for stage 16 would be ideal for a breakaway regardless of what edition of the Tour we were watching, but stages 17 and 18 could also see strong climbers with an aggressive streak contesting the win, considering the way things have gone in this race.
For those of us writing race reports, following both the battles going on up the road and in the peloton may require a bit more focus, but it makes for a good show!
The battle for polka dots will continue to deliver.
On a related note, the contenders for the mountains classification have put on quite a show from the break over the past several stages as the pack has allowed them to contest mountaintops amongst themselves. And in addition to looking good for the breakaway specialists from a stage-winner perspective, the next three days at the Tour will also offer the polka dot hopefuls plenty of opportunities to rack up points.
When the peloton rolls out for stage 16, Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) will be wearing the jersey, sitting atop the mountains leaderboard with 74 points. Mike Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) is in second with 66 points, Nairo Quintana (Arkéa Samsic) is in third at 64, and Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) is right there on the same points total – after finishing second to Cavendish in a sprint last week. Those big names and potentially a few others will likely be laser-focused on the early fights to get into breakaways on each of the next three days.
The GC hopefuls will have their chances at altitude – but will they attack Pogačar or focus on attacking each other?
Stage 16 isn’t easy, but stages 17 and 18 both look like particularly good opportunities for the likes of Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën) to go on the attack, should they want to gain time on race leader Tadej Pogačar (Jumbo-Visma).
Stage 17 features a pair of Cat 1 climbs before an hors categorie summit finish atop the brutal Col du Portet. Stage 18 will take riders over the hors categorie Col du Tourmalet before they close out the day with a second straight hors categorie summit finish at Luz Ardiden.
As if the gradients weren’t enough, the Col du Portet tops out at 2,215 meters and the Tourmalet gets up to 2,115 m ahead of the 1,715 m finish. Pogačar has seemed nigh unflappable in the mountains, except for those few minutes where Vingegaard left him behind on stage 11, but anything can happen in the final week of a Grand Tour at high elevation.
Pogačar’s team has left him isolated on multiple occasions so far, too, meaning that Pogačar will likely have to chase down attacks on his own. But, it remains to be seen whether the other GC riders will actually try their luck attacking him in the final few mountain stages of the race.
There have been moments in the last few days where it has seemed as if those would-be rivals have been more focused on each other than on assailing Pogačar’s lead. Plus, they’ll really need to hit him hard if they want to gain enough time to put him in the rearview mirror for good …
Pogačar will have another opportunity to put his brilliance on display in a stage 20 time trial.
The penultimate stage of last year’s Tour de France gave Tadej Pogačar the chance to pull off the most stunning Tour heist in recent memory, as he turned what had been a 57-second deficit to Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) into a 59-second lead by winning the time trial.
This time around, Pogačar has the yellow jersey already. And although Vingegaard was great in the stage 5 TT and Urán finished a solid 13th, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing quite as much damage to Pogačar in the time trial as he did to Roglič last year.
The looming TT on stage 20 will hopefully incentivize aggression in the high mountains, while offering us a final test of pure strength to close things out in the GC battle. It will take place on a mostly flat course of 30.8 km, where the specialists will shine and those ill-suited to racing against the clock will suffer.
Mark Cavendish will have two chances to surpass Eddy Merckx as the all-time leader in Tour stage wins.
Mark Cavendish, who wasn’t even expected to attend the Tour de France until midway through June, has racked up a remarkable four stage wins so far at the race, bringing his lifetime total to 34. After tying Eddy Merckx for the all-time record with his latest victory on stage 13, Cavendish should have two more chances to surpass that number, on stages 19 and 21.
The biggest questions for Cavendish right now may be whether he can make the time cuts in the mountains, and whether his Deceuninck-QuickStep team can keep the race under control to set up sprints.
The sprint field at the Tour right now is as depleted as any sprint field has been in the final week of the race in recent memory. As a reminder: Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal), Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix), Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Nacer Bouhanni (Arkéa Samsic), and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), Bryan Coquard (B&B Hotels-KTM) have all left the race.
While the absence of so many big names and Cavendish’s flying form and lead-out make him stand out as an obvious favorite for the two potential sprints ahead, Deceuninck-QuickStep will have its hands full keeping the race under control. But if they can pull it off, Cavendish will have two more golden opportunities to take stage wins, and to secure the green jersey he is currently wearing to boot.