I get it. It is hard to watch a 5 hour bike race. The scenery in the Tour de France (TDF) may be nice but it is, frankly, boring to watch a group of men just riding bikes unless there are crashes and no one wants people to get hurt. That is why I recommend people "follow" as opposed to "watch" the Tour de France. And there are lots of ways to follow, maybe watch the last 15 minutes of each day's race, or have it streaming in the background while you do something else, listen to the commentary at the end of each stage, listen to a daily recap or preview podcast or read updates on Youtube, and online in Velo News or Cycling News. But the most interesting aspect of the Tour de France is not the spin of each wheel, the architecture in the small towns, or the statistics, but the human stories. In the first week of the 2021 Tour De France there were four great stories.
SBike Crashes With and Without a Spectator
The first week started out in Brittany, a hilly region of France, and there were a series of crashes. There are often a number of crashes in the first week attributed to the nerves of the riders anxious to be biking in a professional situation again and the quick decisions they must make. The largest crash was the result of a spectator turning her back to the peloton and holding out a sign that knocked down a rider followed by a chain reaction affecting the entire peloton--two dozen riders injured, some of who had to drop out of the race due to the severity of their injuries and have their dreams crushed. While we would like more coverage for the Tour de France around the world, a horrific crash is not the best way to get it. The woman eventually turned herself into to police who arrested her, and TDF organizers initially were going to press charges to deter this behavior among others, but later decided not to. She may still be subjected to legal actions from individual riders who were injured.
Another well publicized crash was at the end of Stage 3 when Caleb Ewan’s front wheel slid from under him at the final turn bringing down Peter Sagan with him. This crash resulted in a lot of talk about course design, in this case, where general classification contenders and sprinters at increased speeds are competing for space on a narrow road with turns. The next day, riders staged a protest, stopping the race for one minute at the start of Stage 4. Riders have complained about course design for years, some suggesting that stages should finish on the outskirts of villages where roads are wider and/or the size of the peloton should be reduce by reducing the number of teams, especially the "filler" French teams that do not have much of a chance of winning, but nothing has changed.
There were several other wheel touches resulting in crashes in the first week that were noteworthy because they affected two of the leading general classification contenders and former TDF winners, Primoz Roglic and Geraint Thomas. It remains to be seen if they can recover sufficiently to compete.
Lance Armstrong said in his podcast that if you want to know what it feels to crash on a bike in the TDF, imagine being a passenger in a car going 40 MPH and unexpectedly, you get pushed out the door of the moving car onto the pavement. That is what it feels like. Ouch.
We got to know the 35 year old Frenchman and current UCI World Champion Julian Alaphilippe last year who has given the French and everyone else plenty to cheer about, holding onto the Yellow Jersey a lot longer than anyone thought he could. His performance this year has us all smiling and is giving commentators plenty to reminisce about. He won the first stage this year, attacking with over 2k to go winning the Yellow, White, Green and Polka Dot jerseys joining an elite group of only 5 riders who have achieved this.
Tribute to a Grandfather's Legacy
It was an emotional feel good result when Mathieu van der Poel won the yellow jersey on Stage 2 in honor of his grandfather Raymond Poulidor. As the story goes, Poupou, as he was called, died in Nov. 2019 after he rode in the TDF 14 times and finished on the podium 8 times, but never won a Yellow Jersey. Van der Poel tried for a stage win at Stage 1, but Julian Alaphilippe foiled that plan, but they say to win a stage, you have to really want to win, so van der Poel apparently wanted it and earned a 18 second bonus at the top of a climb and rode to victory 6 seconds ahead of everyone else. In the post race interview van der Poel was visibly emotional and we were all happy for him to fulfill this dream for his family. He managed to keep the Yellow Jersey as overall race leader for the next 6 stages.
Return of a Legend Sprinter
On stage 4 the 36 year old British sprinter Mark Cavendish won his 31st all time stage in the TDF, his first since 2016. He retired from professional bike racing, was dismissed and declared washed out, then a month ago finagled a spot on the TDF team on the Quick Step team after another team member was injured. He was initially happy just to be in the company of the best riders in the world so to win a stage was a feel good moment with the message of not to count anyone out, and that anything is possible. His team supported him with a text book lead out, and he released his explosive acceleration to best competitors 10 years younger.
Now another story is queued up---whether Cavendish will be able to beat the record of the most career stage wins, currently held by five time TDF winner Eddie Merckx. After Stage 4 he had 31 wins and needed 3 more to beat the record. Sure enough, on Stage 6 he won another Yellow Jersey! Bets are being taken and with each stage his odds are improving. There is a lot of talk about this, if he is successful, how did he do it? If he does not, why did he come up short? Either way the buzz is just starting. Stay tuned.
You have to admit this is no boring bike race. It has never been a better time to be a fan of professional cycling.
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Sharon Kaminecki and others comment on adventures in bicycling and other stories