The route of the second week of the 2021 Tour de France (TDF) included 3 days uphill in the alps, downhill descents, hot temperatures, and cross winds. As we entered the second week, only 4 teams out of 19 had won a stage, putting pressure on the other teams to win something for their sponsors and the record books, and they did—after week two 8 teams have realized their dreams and won stages. The average speed of the peloton is around 40 mph, with speeds of up to 65 mph on the downhills.
The saga continues for Mark Cavendish and his quest for stage wins. This week on Stages 10 and 13 he won again, so he now has 34 all-time career stage wins, tying the current record of Eddy Merckx. With at least two more opportunities for a sprint finish, no other goals for this year’s race, and a strong team behind him to lead him out, you can’t imagine him not trying to win another stage or two to beat the record. These wins, like the other two during the first week, were emotional for him. He asked not to be compared with Eddy Merckx, who retired from professional cycling in 1978 and whose cycling accomplishments far exceed just TDF stage wins. Merckx won the TDF five times and many of the other grand tours, and is often considered the greatest and most successful rider in cycling history. Merckx himself, is wishing Cavendish well, saying records are meant to be broken.
Not every rider in the TDF is suited for the big mountain climbs and they often struggle to stay in the race so they can ride until the final stage into Paris. There is a time cut each day, so a rider will be dropped from the race if they cannot finish the race within the day’s time limit. During the mountainous Stage 8 a total of 85 riders were at risk of being dropped so they rode together to try to make it. Mark Cavendish was in that group and at risk of being cut but managed to cross the finish line within 1.5 minutes of the deadline, although several other riders did get cut. They say that the biggest threat of Cavendish beating the stage win record is not another rider, but being able to meet the daily time cut especially during the mountain stages.
Tadej Pogacar has led the overall race and has been wearing the Yellow Jersey since Stage 8 with over a 5 minute lead over his nearest competitor. Some are saying the race win is his if nothing bad happens such as getting sick, crashing, or running out of energy. His team’s strategy is to save energy and hold onto his lead but, of course, other teams are trying to put pressure on him with attacks and to force him to work harder. It remains to be seen if he has peaked too soon or has the ability to hold onto his lead for another week to the finish, especially in the upcoming Pyrenean Mountain stages which are particularly difficult and the second time trial. So there is this race lead competition, contention for second and third place, and anticipation over Cavendish breaking the stage win record resulting in plenty of excitement still to come until Stage 21 when they ride into Paris and circle the Champs-Elysees.
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