The greatest bike race in the world concluded on Sunday just past and it was an unusual one. The race was dominated by one rider; Tadej Pogacar for UAE Emirates who, once the force of nature that is Alpecin-Fenix’s Dutchman Mathieu Van Der Poel had ceded ownership of the yellow jersey at the end of the first week of the race, to leave his premiere Tour de France to prepare for his quest to win the Olympic mountain bike gold medal in Tokyo, Pogacar, the wily young Slovenian proceeded to decimate the competition. Building an unassailable lead of minutes that would last through the time trial, over the mountains, even our home stage with the double Ventoux challenge and all the way to Paris and the finish line on the Champs Elysees.
Multi-time Tour winners Ineos Grenadiers failed to impress, but there were notable rides from riders who don’t often or have ever seen the front end of a Tour stage. AG2R Citroen’s Aussie Ben O’Connor’s amazing solo ride on Stage 9 and Bora-Hansgroe’s Nils Politt’s break on Stage 12 stand out.
Who can deny the clear talent and multi-role threat that is Belgian Wout Van Aert riding for Jumbo Visma. While the rest of his team worked hard, suffering some really bad luck in a crash-filled first two weeks, losing team leader Primoz Roglic, the watt monster that is Tony Martin, and the climbing specialist Steven Kruijswijk, it was down to Wout and his equally green tour newbie Jonas Vingegaard, who rose from a domestique, to wear the best young rider jersey and as the weeks wore on, one of the strongest riders in high mountains. His career as a dangerman in the mountains is just beginning.
Mark Cavendish was supposed to be retired already. Years of illness and consequential poor form should have been the end. But in a story that even Disney would shelve as being too much of a fairy-tale, he rode brilliantly in the early season Tour of Turkey and through a Sam bennet injury, got a late call for the Deceuninck QuickStep team. His job, to try and win a sprint stage. Nothing more.
Cav did more than that, mopping up green jersey points with frightening ease and grasping every chance to ride off teammate Morkov’s wheel to snatch sprint stage wins. The number of wins climbed ever closer to the magic number of 33 the number he needs to equal that of the most successful Tour de France rider ever the great Eddy Merckx. He achieved this goal on stage 10 into Valence. Embraced by Eddy and told to go and claim his 34th stage win to become the most successful Tour rider in history, a win on the Champs Elysees – regarded as the sprinter’s World Championships would seal a story that would live forever.
Cycling is a beautiful sport, but a cruel one too. Cav’s challenge for a record-breaking 34th Stage win was extinguished by Wout Van Aert who unleashed a perfect sprint to fellow Belgian beat Jasper Philipsen and Cav to the win.
Holding three fingers aloft, Wout indicated his third stage win and what a three. He won the double Ventoux stage with a masterful attack, crushing the field, he won the tricky time trial again with a shape and form that is something very special indeed and then to win the hardest sprint of the year in Paris just proved what a total all-rounder Wout Van Aert is.
While the Eddy Merckx’s stage eating record may be eclipsed by Cav in 2022, it is Wout, Eddy’s young Belgian compatriot who is really set to take the crown of ‘Cannibal’ from the king!
Cycling is truly in a great place right now.