Two years ago Marc Hirschi was bending the Tour de France to his will, attacking and winning a stage, before taking podiums at Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Worlds in the truncated COVID season. This precipitated a move from DSM to UAE Team Emirates, and while the sort of form he had at his former employer is yet to return for myriad reasons, this lap around France has seen something different emerge from the Swiss rider. Grit.
A late replacement for road captain Matteo Trentin, who was ruled out of the Tour through COVID-19, Hirschi had already contracted the virus at the warm-up Tour de Suisse. The illness derailed his good form, but his team leader Tadej Pogačar needed all the help he could get before the start in Denmark and that meant calling on his 23-year-old teammate to slot into the eight-man squad. If the need wasn’t so great, he wouldn’t have been anywhere near the race.
But as COVID-19 and injury have ravaged the UAE Team Emirates squad, leaving them unable to match the might of Jumbo-Visma, the numbers game has meant Pogačar’s squad couldn’t afford to let anyone leave unless they absolutely had to. Heading into the Pyrenees they were down to four. Pogačar, Brandon McNulty, Mikkel Bjerg who himself had been sick earlier in the race, and Hirschi.
“For me, I hoped to recover for the third week but I didn’t,” Hirschi told CyclingTips of how he hung on in there with the hope his luck and health would turn around. “I was really good before but then after Covid I’m really bad now.”
This reduced Hirschi’s ability to help Pogačar in any meaningful way as Jonas Vingegaard and his Jumbo-Visma teammates attacked and broke the Slovenian bit-by-bit on the Col du Granon, before mounting an imperious defence once the yellow jersey was in the hands of the Dutch team.
“I couldn’t help a lot,” Hirschi explained. “I was just there bringing bottles, ice, in the start if Tadej needs to change bikes or something I’m there. I couldn’t do more.”
In the fight for the yellow jersey every teammate wants to play their part. For Hirschi this has been difficult to do, only twice finishing inside the top 100 riders on the stage, his eighth-last in the overall standings emblematic of where his legs are currently at.
Soon the pain will be over, and while Pogačar is looking increasingly unlikely to secure a third-straight yellow jersey, the team will no doubt toast their efforts when they arrive on the Champs-Élysées in the French capital.
“We have a nice dinner in Paris, we go out, most riders have their wives, my girlfriend is coming,” Hirschi explained of his post-stage 21 plans. “We’ll spend the day in Paris and then in the evening I go home to recover.”
Recover ready for next year, where the Swiss rider will have the memory of what happened this July, and hope to flip the tables back over to how they once were.