From June 26 through July 18, the Tour de France returns to its summertime glory for 2021. The Tour rolled out of the Atlantic port of Brest on June 26, with teams of eight riders embarking on a 21-day trek across France with all eyes on defending champion Tadej Pogačar.

Read below for stage-by-stage updates, results, and highlights.

Full Tour de France Standings

Stage 21

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Michael Steele//Getty Images

Tadej Pogačar won a second successive Tour de France on Sunday as Wout van Aert claimed the final stage on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

In 2020, Pogačar didn’t take the lead until Stage 20, but this year he stamped his authority in the first week and pulled on the yellow jersey beneath the Arc de Triomphe as the undisputed champion aged just 22.

“We did it,” he said with a huge smile that was absent after his exhausting time trial on Saturday when he effectively sealed this victory. “It’s never over until the last lap of the Champs-Élysées.”

Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard, of team Jumbo-Visma, was a surprising second in the general classification, while Ineos Grenadiers’s Richard Carapaz was third to follow his 2019 triumph on the Giro d’Italia.

Pogačar survived a litany of crashes as the Tour embarked from the nation’s western tip at the Atlantic port of Brest. The Slovenian then dominated his rivals in the first time trial as the race headed towards the Swiss and Italian border ski resorts, where he also held his own.

The UAE Team Emirates leader then produced a pair of joyful mountain victories in the Pyrénées to rubber stamp his status as the best rider in the Tour this year.

Pogačar also won the awards for best rider under-25 and the king of the mountains polka-dot jersey—a triple he also achieved in his debut last year.

On Sunday, Belgian rider van Aert of Jumbo-Visma stormed past Briton Mark Cavendish to take Stage 21, after also winning the Stage 20 time trial at Saint-Emilion and a mountain stage on Mont Ventoux.

“It’s incredible to win again today, it hasn’t sunk in,” he said, holding his baby on the podium.

“It’s a great send-off for Tokyo,” he said, before flying off to the Olympic Games on Monday where he will lead the Belgian team.

The 36-year-old Cavendish of Deceunick-QuickStep narrowly missed out on a fifth stage win—and a record 35th ever in the Tour de France. Jasper Philipsen was second for the day and Cavendish was third, punching his handlebars in frustration as he crossed the finish line.

However, that doesn’t take away from Cavendish’s four wins in the six stages that ended in a mass bunch sprint. It was enough for him to equal Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins in the Tour and secure him the green sprint points jersey.

The Bahrain Victorious outfit won the team award to end the Tour with a smile, after a police anti-doping raid on their hotel and team bus earlier this week.

Stage 20

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Wout van Aert of team Jumbo-Visma won the Stage 20 time trial by a solid 21-second margin on Saturday, making it his second stage win this Tour.

Tadej Pogačar all but became champion of the 2021 Tour de France as the UAE Team Emirates rider protected his large overall lead in the time trial, ahead of the traditionally ceremonial final ride to Paris. Defending champion Pogačar’s solid ride means he need only cross the Champs-Élysées finish line with the peloton on Sunday’s 21st and final stage to retain the fabled yellow jersey as the overall winner.

Pogačar won three stages on the way to his dominant triumph in a manner reminiscent of former champions Alberto Contador and Chris Froome, who were strong in both the time trials and the mountains. He will also win the awards for best rider under-25 and the king of the mountains polka-dot jersey—a triple win that he also achieved on his debut last year.

“I can’t say which one is more beautiful. Last year everything was decided on the last individual time trial and the emotions were by far stronger. This time, I took the yellow jersey earlier. It has been totally different,” said the man who will ride into Paris in yellow.

The Monaco resident, who earns five million euros (5.9 million dollars) a year, appeared overcome as he climbed onto the podium for his three jerseys, with Briton Mark Cavendish also wearing a huge grin as he was awarded his green sprint jersey.

“I’m so happy it’s coming to an end,” said Pogačar, admitting he was wiped out. “What a demanding three weeks it has been.”

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“I wasn’t so motivated last night and had to get myself going,” said Pogačar, who ended the day five minutes and 20 seconds ahead of the second place rider in the overall classification. “It was very hot and I was suffering a bit. But I’m super happy. It still was a super performance.”

The top three in the standings remained the same after the 30K course on a sizzling hot Saturday, as rowdy fans packed the roadsides all the way to the scenic Saint-Emilion vineyards.

Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard goes into the final day in second, while Ineos Grenadiers’s Richard Carapaz is in third.

“I’d have told anyone they were nuts,” Vingegaard said with a sparkle in his eye as he dove into a large bowl of pasta. “Tadej was so strong in the rainy stages, he won it there in the rain.”

“He’s not unbeatable”

A second place for Dutch team Jumbo-Visma is a triumph of sorts after their leader Primož Roglič crashed hard early in the race. Van Aert’s victory on Saturday also gave them three stages, even though only four of the eight-rider team have made it through to the final stage after a series of falls.

“I’m very proud of our performance. These three wins and a second place in the general [classification] is great,” said van Aert, who also won Stage 11, which climbed up Mont Ventoux twice, while American Sepp Kuss took Stage 15 in the Pyrénées.

“But if we want to win the Tour de France we need to stay on our bikes and finish the Tour with a full team,” va Aert said. “Tadej deserves his win, but I don’t believe he is unbeatable.”

Van Aert also sent out a warning to Cavendish, who is targeting an all time record of 35 stage wins with the Champs-Élysées sprint Sunday.

“I’ll be challenging [it] for sure. I won’t miss out. The Champs-Élysées sprint is a huge thing in the career of any rider,” said van Aert.

A third place overall finish for the British team Ineos Grenadiers, which took no stage wins, seems like the end of their era, after the 2020 failure was blamed on Egan Bernal’s bad back.

The British team went into this race with four co-leaders, hoping to win an eighth title in ten years, but experienced terrible luck as three suffered bad falls, leaving only Carapaz to soldier on—although they did win the Giro d’Italia in May with Bernal.

Stage 19

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Tim de Waele//Getty Images

Bahrain Victorious’s Slovenian rider Matej Mohorič won stage 19 of the Tour de France on Friday, a day after his team hotel and bus were subjected to an anti-doping raid.

It was Mohorič’s second win this edition of the Tour. After he joined an early breakaway, he then broke clear for a solo win at Libourne, with the main peloton several minutes behind.

Overall leader Tadej Pogačar’s UAE Team Emirates team led the peloton over the line 20 minutes and 49 seconds later, with no change in the overall top ten ahead of Saturday’s decisive 30K individual time trial.

Mohorič made a gesture at the finish line, running a finger across his lips horizontally as if he were closing a zipper, after the team’s third victory at this year’s race.

Mohorič said his gesture was meant as a message for people to be careful about jumping to conclusions after the raid, which has led to a preliminary enquiry that authorities said was to see “whether or not there has been acquisition, transport, or possession of banned substances.”

Mohorič faced the press calmly after celebrating on the podium.

“It was a sign to show all people to be mindful that we are making sacrifices with our work away from home and family and on training camps. We have a good level here and also had it in the past,” he said.

Raid has united the team

The 26-year-old former junior world champion was trying to remain positive after the police raid, although he admitted it was deeply upsetting at the time.

“If someone needs to go through my stuff and take my phone, well if this eventually proves my innocence then so much the better,” he said. “I felt weird about my integrity being questioned, but then I felt it was good for the integrity of a sport that has had big problems in the past.”

Mohorič said that he felt the raid had helped unite his team.

“We are so determined to show we have nothing to hide. We are here to focus on a bike race and show we are one of the best teams in the world,” he said.

The winner raced the 207K at an impressive average speed of 47.9kph (29.7mph), often riding into a headwind through the Bordeaux vineyards. Along with winning the stage, he also took the most combative rider award for the day.

Christophe Laporte of Cofidis was second at 58 seconds back and Casper Pedersen of DSM was third for the stage.

The 19th stage had been billed as the day Mark Cavendish would set a new record of 35 Tour de France stage wins, his fifth win this edition. But an early mass fall and lack of will from other teams to stop a breakaway allowed a large group to build up a big lead over the main pack. Cavendish was unperturbed by the day’s action.

“I still have Paris,” he said of Sunday’s sprint finish on the Champs-Élysées.

“And I still have the jersey,” he said as he stepped down from the awards ceremony in the sprint points leader’s green jersey.

The 36-year-old was a late inclusion on the Deceuninck-QuickStep team roster but has won four stages so far this year, with a fifth possible win on Sunday when the race ends in the French capital.

Cavendish was given a fright as a mass domino-effect pileup swept through the peloton shortly after leaving the start town Mourenx on Friday, but the Briton was unhurt.

Stage 18

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Overall leader Tadej Pogačar again proved his dominance in the Tour de France as he won a second consecutive mountain stage in the Pyrénées on Thursday—and said, “It's a game for me.”

On a short final mountain stage of 130K, Pogačar out-rode his two closest rivals, Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz, just as he did on the previous day. The 2020 champion continued the most dominant run in recent Tour memory, by climbing onto the post-race podium four times—as stage winner, as best young rider, best climber, and as the runaway overall leader.

The peloton left Pau under a shadow Thursday, after an overnight anti-doping raid on the Bahrain-Victorious team at their hotel.

“It’s something strange, maybe just one more control to see nobody’s hiding anything,” said Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates. “We only found out in the morning, I don’t know what to think.”

But by the time an Ineos Grenadiers quartet of riders were leading the remnants of the pack up the final climb of this Tour de France, the focus was on the possible challenges to the leader on the road.

“It was full gas racing today, Ineos were pressing from deep,” the leader said of what was likely Carapaz’s last chance to unseat him.

“We had nothing to lose today, so we are happy,” said the Ecuadorian. “Our goal was to win the stage. I think we put up a good fight.”

With 3K left to go, Pogačar, Vingegaard, and Carapaz were left to cross swords in a pulsating uphill battle to a finish line above the clouds at the ski resort of Luz Ardiden, with hundreds of thousands of fans lining the roadside and cycling-loving French President Emmanuel Macron in the race director’s car at the head of the action.

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Tim de Waele//Getty Images

The struggle was quickly settled. Pogačar raced ahead with ease over the last kilometer and slowed down to take a look over his shoulder as he crossed the line for his third stage win this Tour.

“I felt good and I’m really happy with the win. It’s a game for me, I’m enjoying playing it,” said the 22-year-old who has dominated in the mountains and in the all important time trials, just as Spaniard Alberto Contador and Briton Chris Froome did in their time.

Pogačar enjoying new era

But Pogačar was adamant he is not on the cusp of greatness.

“This is not the ‘Pogačar era,’ but for sure a new generation is here,” he said.

“It’s important to have fun and enjoy what you are doing. Some you win, some you lose, but always have fun, my coach says,” Pogačar said, smiling and looking relaxed. “Tomorrow I aim to enjoy every minute of the flat run,” he said of Friday’s stage.

He did admit to worrying about the final challenge, a 30K time trial. “You can lose six minutes over 30K like that,” he said.

Pogačar pulverised the opposition in the first time trial, which he won on Stage 5.

Pogačar leads the Danish rider Vingegaard by almost six minutes, with Carapaz right on the Jumbo-Visma man’s tail in third with three stages left: a flat run on Friday, Saturday’s time trial, and Sunday’s parade into Paris.

Vingegaard is on paper a better time trialist than Carapaz, but with only a few seconds between the pair, it is too early to call a top three.

Whatever happens in Paris, the events in Pau on Thursday night may take longer to run their course, after French police said the investigation was in its preliminary stages.

“A preliminary inquiry has been opened to see if there has been, or not, acquisition, transport, or possession of banned substances,” the Marseille-based police unit overseeing the matter told AFP.

Stage 17

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Tadej Pogačar emerged above the clouds atop the Pyrénéen Col du Portet to extend his overall lead and win Stage 17 of the Tour de France on Wednesday, after an epic struggle with his two closest pursuers, Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz.

Ecuadorian Carapaz launched a blistering attack 1.5K from the 2,200-meter summit finish, but was agonizingly reeled in by the defending champion Pogačar, for whom this was an iconic career moment, winning a tough stage with the overall leader’s yellow jersey already on his back.

After pulverizing the field on the Stage 5 time trial, the Slovenian took his second victory this Tour to extend his lead over the Vingegaard to 5 minutes and 39 seconds. The discrete Carapaz climbed to third overall four seconds back, after Rigoberto Uran was dropped on the final climb. The Colombian slipped to fourth overall at 7 minutes and 17 seconds behind Pogačar.

“It was the most difficult stage of the Tour, and I dedicate this win to my team who worked so hard for me here,” said Pogačar.

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“This Tour isn’t over until the last lap of the Champs-Élysées,” he said when asked if he believed the defense of his title was now sealed.

Storming Bastille Day

On the French national holiday of Bastille Day, there were almost as many Slovenian flags on the final climb as French flags, and a healthy smattering of Basque berets were being sported as well in the huge crowds that lined the slopes.

French fans had plenty to smile about as Groupama-FDJ’s home hope David Gaudu came in fourth at a finish line above the clouds in this remote corner of France. Up-and-coming climber Gaudu raced the stage with the French tricolour on his helmet.

Another French team, AG2R Citroën, saw their Australian podium hope Ben O’Connor consolidate fifth overall as he rounded out the day’s top five, having previously won the Alpine stage up to the Tignes ski resort.

AG2R Citroën boss Vincent Lavenu told AFP that the stage, with its 36K of steep climbing in the final section, was a “race for second place and that half the contenders will be dropped here.”

It proved true, but Ineos Grenadiers rider Carapaz, who looked to be struggling after the lead trio broke off, kept fighting with his late but fruitless burst.

Before Vingegaard attacked an elite clique on Mont Ventoux last week, he was relatively unknown. Since then, the painfully shy Jumbo-Visma rider from the remote Danish region of North Jutland has emerged as a serious podium contender. With his team down to four riders, he admitted that on Wednesday “the plan was just to follow.” He cemented his grip on second by surviving the climb up Col du Portet and said he was “relieved, happy and proud” and said that his family was at the finish line.

The leader had warm words for the man hot on his tail.

“He’s fantastic, a top class rider,” said Pogačar who, like Vingegaard, is racing his second Tour de France. “I like racing against him. He’s a super good guy and he could win a Tour de France soon.”

One last mountain-top finish awaits the riders Thursday before Saturday’s potentially decisive time trial and Sunday’s parade into Paris.

Stage 16

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Austrian Patrick Konrad won a hilly Stage 16 of the Tour de France on Tuesday, after joining an early breakaway and then attacking solo from 38K out on a rainy ride through the Pyrénées.

Overall leader Tadej Pogačar and his general classification rivals rode the 169K course at a gentle pace and were trailing the 29-year-old Bora-Hansgrohe rider by some 14 minutes on an unseasonably cold day, with two major mountain stages coming up over the next two days.

An elite clique of 15 riders including all of the top 11 in the general classification broke off the front of the peloton just outside Saint-Gaudens—with Slovenian Pogačar of UAE Team Emirates, EF Education-Nippo rider Rigoberto Uran, and Ineos Grenadiers rider Richard Carapaz all finishing with the same time after a last-gasp burst of speed.

On an overcast day in the Pyrénées, the peloton embarked from Pas de la Casa in the Principality of Andorra, where the roads appeared even narrower with the wet, overhanging foliage.

Green jersey wearer Mark Cavendish and a ten-man grupetto of stragglers fell off the back, but made it home within the time cut.

Konrad had been close twice before this Tour de France, a factor that drove him to attack.

“It makes me really proud,” said the Austrian national road race champion on his first ever Tour de France stage win, after being chased over the final 30K by David Gaudu and Sonny Colbrelli. “I’ve been in three breaks already, and I had waited until too late. Today, I said to myself I am the guy, and I had the legs to bring it to the finish.”

Monster Pyrénéen climbs next

After Monday’s final rest day and Pogačar leading the others in the top five by more than five minutes, there was little appetite for a major attack. But there’s three potential chances to overturn the order, starting with two summit finishes Wednesday and Thursday, and Saturday’s individual time trial to Saint-Émilion likely to deliver the champion.

Pogačar got the backing of four-time Tour winner Chris Froome Tuesday morning. “If Pogačar can stay on the bike, then it’s over,” Froome said.

Pogacar seemed as relaxed as ever after the 16th stage.

“I like this weather, and I hope it’s like this tomorrow,” said the 22-year-old. “We are going to ride as hard as we can. It will be a big GC battle.”

The race began with the rare sight of the entire peloton shuddering to a halt and engaging in a mass shedding of cold weather clothes after a 20K neutralized downhill start.

British rider Mark Cavendish kept the green jersey and has two opportunities—on Friday and on the Champs-Élysées on Sunday—to beat Eddy Merckx’s all-time record, after his four stage wins so far saw the sprinter equal the tally of 34 set by the Belgian great 46 years ago.

The race for the polka-dot jersey will be tense as Wout Poels leads just ahead of Michael Woods of Canada and Nairo Quintana of Colombia.

Stage 15

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American Sepp Kuss of the Jumbo Visma team won a grueling Stage 15, as the Tour de France entered the Pyrenees on Sunday. Defending champion Tadej Pogačar survived the torrid day in the saddle, with the Slovenian holding on to the overall lead despite constant pressure from a clique of Ineos riders.

Near the top of the last climb, Kuss skipped away from Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who at 41 years old finished second, and Dutch rider Wout Poels, who pulled on the king of the mountains jersey after coming in third.

Many of the riders live in the tax haven principality of Andorra, and there was much talk ahead of the days racing of motivation to do well in front of families.

Kuss had been sent into the day’s long-haul attack with the aim of eventually dropping back and helping team leader Jonas Vingegaard, third overall.

“We had planned to help Jonas, but there were two of us so Steven [Kruijswijk] dropped back, so we got the stage and the team tactics right,” Kuss explained of the windy stage where the protection of a teammate can make all the difference.

“My girlfriend and my family were on the final climb cheering me on. I’m lost for words,” said climb specialist Kuss, whose family has roots in Slovenia.

“It was a hard day in the break, but I know this ride well from training and knew where I could get a break,” he said.

Pogacar said his family being there was also a boon.

“My family are here most days although I don’t always see them, but I did today,” he said, smiling. “When I see my mum it takes away the pain for a moment.”

Pogacar is perhaps the big winner on the day after he was isolated on the windy slopes of the third climb, but he kept his calm and, crucially, his pace as his closest rivals took turns to attack him.

Ineos have said they plan to grind him down in a bid to manoeuvre their own rider, Richard Carapaz, into contention for the yellow jersey.

The Ecuadorian currently lies fourth, five minutes and 33 seconds behind Pogačar. Colombian EF rider Rigoberto Uran is second at 5:18, while Denmark’s Vingegaard is third at 5:32.

“We’re doing everything for Richard now, I really hope we can get him on the podium,” said 2018 champion Geraint Thomas, who led a quartet of his teammates until he dropped off exhausted on the third climb.

But the 22-year-old champion scoffed at the Ineos tactics, despite watching his teammates drop off one by one.

“I didn’t feel scared because I was comfortable with Ineos’s placing,” said Pogačar.

“Sure, it’s looking like a really tough third week and today they made me work really hard,” he admitted.

While Monday is a well-deserved rest day, Sunday’s first Pyrenean stage was the first of four challenges in this secluded mountain range where the 2021 Tour is likely to be decided.

Stage 14

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Dutchman Bauke Mollema won stage 14 of the Tour de France on a semi-mountainous run from the citadel at Carcassonne to the small town of Quillan at the foot of the Pyrenees on Saturday.

Overall leader Tadej Pogačar was under no threat, even if he finished some seven minutes adrift on what he called a boring stage. His UAE team raced at the front of the main peloton with INEOS keeping an ever-watchful eye on them.

Frenchman Guillaume Martin of Cofidis was the day’s other big winner as he moved into second overall, four minutes behind the 22-year-old defending champion.

“Anyone in the top ten is dangerous, if I have a bad day any of them can catch me,” Pogačar said. “Cycling is like that, one day you’re the strongest, another day you aren’t.”

Martin looked drawn when he spoke at the finish line in the overwhelming heat.

“I took a risk, but this is the Tour and you have to take risks,” said Martin, a former philosophy student and author of the novel Socrates on a Bike.

“It was really hard. I saw an opportunity and it took a great deal of energy,” said Martin. “I’ll need to get back on form for tomorrow, this is the Tour, today it payed off, but who knows.”

Stage 14 was a grueling affair, exposed to beating heat, along narrow, winding Pyrenean foot-hill roads dotted with patches of melting tarmac and featuring over 20km of steep inclines and around the same of narrow, winding descents.

One of these tricky descents ended Michael Woods' chances of winning the stage from the escape group as the Israel Start Up Nation rider took a bend too wide and fell heavily.

He climbed back on his bike to make a small piece of Tour de France history for his own nation as he took the lead in the climbing category.

“I’m the first Canadian to get the polka-dot jersey,” Woods said after he had overtaken Colombian Nairo Quintana in the points race.

As a wearying afternoon sun beat down on the exposed hills, the 2018 champion Geraint Thomas and world champion Julian Alaphilippe dropped off the back of the peloton with 20km to go and it became clear the overall leader's chasing group would not catch the escape.

“Some of the guys in the escape group were not working, so I went from 45km on my own,” explained the 34-year-old Mollema, after winning his second Tour de France stage. “I like racing in the heat and most of my wins have been solo.”

On Friday, Mark Cavendish matched Eddy Merckx’s 46-year-old record for Tour stage wins. But the Deceuninck rider was well behind the peloton starting at the first slopes and trailed in more than 25 minutes behind Mollema’s winning mark.

Cavendish remained in green with two more mountain stages to survive before he has two more chances to break the record. He could steal the race winner’s thunder when the Tour winds up on the Champs Élysées, where he has won four times, on July 18.

Stage 13

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Chris Graythen//Getty Images

Mark Cavendish equaled the all-time tally of Tour de France stage wins when he sped over the finish line at Carcassonne on Friday for a landmark 34th victory in the race. It was Cavendish’s fourth win this Tour, tying the Belgian sprinter equal Eddy Merckx’s 46-year-old record of Tour de France stage wins.

Until Friday, Cavendish had steadfastly refused to hype the record due to his reverence for Merckx, who won the Tour de France five times.

“I can’t be compared to him,” said the Briton, who has two more flat stages in which to actually beat the record. “Eddy Merckx is the greatest rider of all time, and he will remain so.”

The feat is all the more remarkable considering Cavendish’s career looked compromised in December, teamless, without a Tour de France win in five years, and struggling to put a long bout of the tiring Epstein Barr virus behind him.

Team-less at the end of last season, Cavendish signed a short-term contract with Deceuninck – Quick-Step by maverick Belgian team boss Patrick Lefevere, a larger-than-life character Cavendish has always trusted and believed in.

Lefevere sent Cavendish to the level two Tour of Turkey in April and when he won four stages there, the foundation stone for a return to the top had been laid.

Tadej Pogačar retained the yellow jersey on Friday, and has a wide margin of five minutes to defend.

“I felt good on the day,” said the Slovenian, who was swift to praise the green jersey. “I watched him as a kid, sprinting like Rocketman, all respect to him.”

British Olympic hope Simon Yates pulled out of the Tour de France after a nasty mass-fall caused by gravel earlier on the stage.

Yates of BikeExchange looked dazed and badly grazed, and was one of the last men to remount and try and ride off his knock, but the British Olympic road-race hope was in too much difficulty and withdrew within 10 minutes of the accident.

Stage 12

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Germany’s Nils Politt won Stage 12 of the Tour de France on Thursday, after early winds helped a breakaway build up a convincing lead over the main pack in the Rhone Valley and foil the best laid plans of the sprinters.

An escape group finished the short, flat stage to Nimes more than 15 minutes ahead of a resigned peloton, with the defending champion, UAE Team Emirates rider Tadej Pogačar, retaining his five-minute overall lead over a group of rivals.

“I felt good on the bike today, and in the coming stages I won’t hold back if I see an opportunity,” the Slovenian warned.

Stage winner Politt attacked from within a reduced group of 12 powerful riders who had defied the wind for a dominant solo victory.

“Directly after the start was the wind and it turned into a Tour de France win, it’s unbelievable,” said Politt, who rides for the Bora-Hansgrohe team.

“I attacked and opened up a gap from the other guys in the escape. This is my passion, and this is the biggest thing,” he said referring to the stage win.

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Nils Politt attacking off the front of the breakaway during Stage 12.
Michael Steele//Getty Images

It was a sweet end to the day for Bora-Hansgrohe after a sore knee brought a premature end to the race for the team’s seven-time green jersey winner Peter Sagan, with only 157 riders taking to the starting line in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateau on Thursday. It was the first time the Slovak has failed to finish the 21-day, 3000K haul, but his absence freed up Politt.

“Peter not being in the race allowed me to go for it, it could be a moment that changes my life,” said Politt, who came second the last time the grueling Paris-Roubaix was run.

Mock sprint from stone-faced Cavendish

The escape hampered an ideal scenario for the Mark Cavendish comeback roller-coaster. While Cavendish himself refuses to talk about equaling Eddy Merckx’s 35-year-old all-time record of 34 Tour de France stage wins, it appeared to be a feasible scenario ahead of the stage. When the peloton rolled into the red-roofed town of Nimes, the “Manx Missile” made a statement of intent by racing to the head of the main pack in a mock sprint, which he easily won.

After a five-year barren patch in the Tour de France, Cavendish is in a full blown Indian Summer following his last-minute call up to the Deceuninck-QuickStep roster at 36 years of age. The Isle of Man rider has seized his chance with three stage wins for a cumulative tally of 33, leaving him just a single stage short of Merckx’s record.

Due to what organizers called “favourable winds,” the start was delayed by 15 minutes, and as soon as it did get going a northern wind blustering down the vineyard-filled Rhone Valley caused immediate breaks in the peloton.

Cavendish stayed in the first group, looking relaxed as Stage 12 rolled through the magnificent Cevennes National Park—taking in the gorges of the Ardeche with its stone arch, the Pont d'Arc, and ending close to the Roman arena in Nimes, on what was billed as the 2021 Tour’s prettiest stage.

Stage 11

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Wild crowds cheered Wout van Aert to a frantic Stage 11 win in the Tour de France on Wednesday, after a double ascent of Mont Ventoux—the first in Tour history within a single stage.

UAE Team Emirates leader Tadej Pogačar retained the overall lead by more than five minutes over his pursuers after a long, daredevil descent to the finish line with EF Education-Nippo’s Colombian Rigoberto Uran and Ineos Grenadiers’s Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz.

Jumbo-Visma’s van Aert crossed the summit of “the Giant of Provence” alone in his Belgian champion’s jersey on an incredibly hot day and was greeted after his expert descent by a group of fans at the finish line.

“There’s loads of Belgians here,” said an exultant van Aert, who played to the crowds by bending his ear to their acclamation.

On this iconic climb, where Tom Simpson died in 1967 and where Eddy Merckx, Marco Pantani, and Chris Froome climbed to memorable wins, van Aert’s effort was magnificent, and he rode with a free spirit now that his team leader Primož Roglič is out injured.

“It’s my best victory ever,” said van Aert, who finally reaped his reward, after his combative riding helped light the Tour fuse on the opening stages.

Behind him, his teammate Jonas Vingegaard climbed into the top three overall, crossing the line in the small group that included Pogačar, one min and 38 seconds after van Aert. Pogačar leads Uran by 5 minutes and 18 seconds, Dane Vingegaard is in third 14 seconds further back and a second ahead of Carapaz, while Australian Ben O’Connor is fifth. Colombian Nairo Quintana kept the polka-dot climber’s points jersey while Mark Cavendish came home seven minutes inside the time cut to hold on to the green sprinter’s jersey.

“Anything is possible”

Vingegaard dropped Pogačar after a struggle over the final 3K of the last ascent, only for the Slovenian’s group to catch up on the 25K descent.

“I couldn’t follow him, the heat, Ineos, there was a lot going on,” said a cool and relaxed looking Pogačar at the finish line, where he immediately went to see the stage winner. “We had some nice words for each other, I just wanted to say ‘great ride mate.’”

With a vehicle ban on Ventoux, police searched the vast crowds ascending on foot for alcohol and handed out bin bags after 40 tonnes of rubbish were left behind last time the Tour climbed the mountain.

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Michael Steele//Getty Images

The peloton pulled out of the pretty Provence town of Sorgues to the summer sound of chirruping cicadas, with the mercury rising to over 30 degrees Celsius and the multicoloured peloton shimmering in the southern French sunshine.

By the time the lead group emerged above the clouds on bleak Ventoux, the peloton was scattered all the way down the 21K, one-hour climb. The leaders cut stark figures as they struggled for dominance across the lunar landscape.

Pogačar resisted concerted pressure from Ineos Grenadiers to lead an elite quartet across the line, but only after a wobble on the upper reaches of the second Ventoux slog.

After his dash to the finish, van Aert celebrated with sheer joy, his arms raised straight up in the air and standing high on his pedals.

“If you believe in it, anything is possible. Now, I’ll be helping Jonas in the overall and hopefully trying to win more stages,” said van Aert, who has promised to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Cavendish.

Thursday’s Stage 12 is a flat run to Nimes, where Cavendish will equal Merckx’s all-time Tour de France stage win tally of 34 if he claims a fourth victory in this year’s race.

Stage 10

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Mark Cavendish won his third stage in the 2021 Tour de France on Tuesday, moving to within one of Eddy Merckx’s all time record of 34 stage wins, but said he is motivated more by inspiring people to overcome difficulties.

At the end of a flat run from Albertville to Valence, 36-year-old Briton Cavendish edged Belgians Wout van Aert and Jasper Philipsen to the line with his 33rd stage win in the world’s greatest bike race, while also keeping a firm grip on the sprint points green jersey.

Cavendish was a surprise late inclusion on Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Tour roster and had seized the opportunity, ending a five-year barren patch in the race with wins on Stages 4, 6, and now 10. The 2009 world champion, known as the Manx Missile, was teamless in December before being taken in by former mentor Patrick Lefevere on the Belgian team, where he has finally put behind him the after effects of the tiring Epstein-Barr virus.

“I’ve been blown away by the love and support from around the world,” a beaming Cavendish said. “People can be inspired by some kind of comeback if you think things are over, if anyone can use that to get inspired, that is the greatest joy for me.”

Cavendish cut a much lighter character when interviewed, after coming across prickly on his previous two triumphs here.

“I didn’t do anything today, they just delivered me, it was phenomenal again,” he said, after hitting 63.5kph (almost 40mph) on the home stretch.

Cavendish refuses to discuss the Merckx stage milestone; the Belgian won the last of his Tour stages in 1975. The former Team Sky rider is described by Tour director Christian Prudhomme as the greatest sprinter ever on the Grand Boucle, but will never win the race outright. On Sunday, he scraped over the line just inside the time cut on a major mountain stage and described this feat as perhaps his greatest victory.

“My boss has been talking about me winning a fifth stage on the Champs Elysees,” he said, a feat that would see him surpass the long-standing Merckx’s tally. “But I’m just taking it one day at a time, and I’ll keep trying to win stages.”

Pogačar ready to go full gas

The 22-year-old defending champion Tadej Pogačar retained the yellow jersey for the overall lead after keeping a low profile ahead of Wednesday’s monster double climb of Mont Ventoux, with its barren, lunar upper reaches.

“Yeah, I didn’t get too involved today, I need to get ready to go full-gas on Mont Ventoux,” said the overall leader. “There’s no point me risking everything going for a stage win.”

“I crashed the first day on the Tour, and I’ve crashed six times this year, so that’s my main stress on these flat stages, keeping out of trouble,” Pogačar continued.

Stage 10 embarked from the 1992 Winter Olympics host city of Albertville and took the peloton through the magnificent Rhone Valley, where the 165 survivors from the original 184 starters appeared relaxed after their rest day, all of them having tested negative for Covid-19 on Monday.

The race ended minutes before a heavy rainstorm lashed the finish line in Valence, halfway between Lyon and Marseille, that had been on an ‘orange alert’ in France for bad weather. A crosswind prelude to the storm picked up 30K out of Valence, known for its Crozes Hermitage wines, wafting the pungent scent of the lavender fields across the open plains outside the arrival town in the Drome region.

Stage 9

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Australian climber Ben O’Connor soared to a high-altitude stage win in the Tour de France on Sunday, on a cold, rainy day that culminated in a 21K climb to Tignes.

UAE Team Emirates controlled the main contenders and their leader, the 22-year-old defending champion Tadej Pogačar, again hurt his rivals and strengthened his hold on the Tour lead, while the Citroën AG2R rider O’Connor hauled himself into second in the overall standings.

O’Connor skipped up the 21K final climb to Tignes, leaving the other members of his breakaway group, including Colombian pair Nairo Quintana and Sergio Higuita, trailing in his wake.

“It’s mind-blowing, it can make your heart stop and it definitely did that to mine,” said a visibly thrilled O’Connor, who dedicated the win to his happy Citroën AG2R team, family, girlfriend and mates back in Australia.

The temperature was in single digits Celsius and rain fell most of the day.

“Conditions were atrocious,” O’Connor said, and riders looked frozen to the bone at the finish line, many trembling with cold.

Pogačar once again showed he is currently the strongest of the overall contenders as he dropped Ineos Grenadiers riders Geraint Thomas and Richie Carapaz with 4K to go, gaining another 30 seconds in his title defence.

Stage 8

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Defending champion Tadej Pogačar soared into the Tour de France overall lead on Saturday on an Alpine stage won by Belgian Dylan Teuns, as British outfit Ineos Grenadiers’s hopes were again battered.

UAE Team Emirates’s Slovenian leader Pogačar finished fourth, around a minute behind Teuns, but took another three minutes out of his most credible rival Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz of Ineos.

Overnight leader Mathieu van der Poel went into a trademark “all or nothing at all” meltdown and looks set to drop out of the Tour as promised and jet off to Tokyo to contest the mountain bike gold medal.

At one point, a wind-blown umbrella flew across Van der Poel’s path, but the Dutch Tour rookie swerved brilliantly to avoid it, keeping his Olympic dream alive even as he let go of the yellow jersey.

Pogačar, who stunned his rivals with a Stage 5 time trial win, was again head and shoulders above the rest of the field. He attacked from the group of contenders a full 30K out after his sports director said ahead of the race, “the Tour de France starts here.”

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With 13 stages remaining, Pogačar leads the Tour by one min and 48 seconds ahead of Belgian Wout Van Aert, who is Jumbo-Visma’s main hope, after Primož Roglič’s crash several days ago and subsequent decline in form.

The 22-year-old Pogačar will wear the yellow jersey for only the second time on Sunday. He took control of the 2020 Tour on the penultimate day, but rather than bide his time on this raucous edition, he has seized control early.

Teuns, a 29-year-old Belgian, who also won a stage of the 2019 Tour de France on the storied Planche des Belles Fille climb, dedicated his win to his grandmother—his grandfather passed away just two days before the start of the Tour.

“I hope she’s not suffering too much by being alone,” said Teuns, who was only 12 seconds ahead of Pogačar at the summit of the final climb.

“I didn’t know he was so close, there was so much noise up there,” said Teuns, who rode recklessly on the descent to open a larger lead on the gifted descender Pogačar.

Have fun up there

Before Van der Poel dropped off the pace on the second climb, he drew alongside Pogačar and the two chatted for a few moments.

“He wished me well and said he hoped I got the jersey today,” Pogačar said.

When Pogačar put the hammer down, as they say in cycling, only Carapaz was able to follow, but not for long.

“Attack is the best defence,” Pogačar said. “I haven’t won the Tour de France yet,” he said, looking ahead to Sunday’s stage with it’s summit finish at Tignes.

“Tomorrow we have a super, super hard stage, we may have to defend there,” he said, looking pale and cold after his long day in the rain.

Teuns’s Bahrain Victorious team had a second reason to be cheerful as Wout Poels took the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey.

The 150K course, which culminated with the ascent and descent of a classic Tour climb, the Col de la Colombiere with a 7.5K climb at an 8.5 percent average gradient, was the first of eight mountain stages. There were large weekend crowds in the Upper Savoy region known for Evian water, melted-cheese dishes, and the Chamonix ski resort.

Stage 7

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Slovenia’s Matej Mohorič won Stage 7 of the Tour de France on Friday, as Mathieu van der Poel kept the yellow jersey, after leading a breakaway on an epic 249K run from Vierzon to Le Creusot.

Defending champion Tadej Pogačar limited his losses and remains a force to be reckoned with, while Ineos’s best-placed rider Richard Carapaz wasted energy with a doomed late breakaway before being caught on the line as the British team continue to suffer.

A mass attack after 50K of the longest stage in 21 years stunned race favourite Pogačar, as over 20 riders got away after a 15K struggle to contain them wilted. The large escape group, all working hard to maximize the damage, soon opened up a seven-minute lead, leaving a sense of confusion in the teams left behind including UAE Team Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers. It was to produce an unexpected day of drama to round off an eventful first week.

Ahead of two tough mountain stages in the Alps, the rookie Van der Poel, who took the overall lead on Stage 2, is a defendable 3 minutes and 43 seconds ahead of fifth-placed Pogačar.

“It was just a brutal day, I haven’t witnessed this often on the bike, or even watching a race on television,” said Van der Poel, who insists the Tokyo Olympics is his chief aim.

“I just wanted to protect the jersey and followed my rivals in the attack,” he said in reference to Jumbo-Visma’s Wout Van Aert, who is now second overall at just 30 seconds back after the pair came home with six other riders, a minute and 40 seconds after the winner.

Brutal shock

Pogačar admitted after the race that he felt the effects of his individual time trial win on Wednesday, saying he had not refused to chase and thanking his team, even if they lost three minutes on Van der Poel.

“I knew it was going to be hard when they attacked in crosswind, but I’m super proud of the team. I can’t be the strongest every day,” said the 22-year-old.

His countryman, stage winner Mohorič, climbed to fourth in the overall standings and claimed the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey.

“It hasn’t sunk in,” said a visibly thrilled Mohorič. “This completes my set as I won at the Giro and the Vuelta.”

“But this is something else, this is the biggest race in the world,” he continued.

Another Slovenian, Primož Roglič, had the biggest loss of the day and was dropped with 15K to go. The 2020 runner-up fell badly on Stage 3 and now appears to be out of the running after losing 3 minutes and 50 seconds on Pogačar and Carapaz.

With its hills, forests, and sheer length, Stage 7 had the feel of an Ardennes one-day classic, and Belgium’s Wout Van Aert and Van der Poel of the Netherlands were key protagonists in forcing a hesitant peloton into a dramatic charge for the line.

Mark Cavendish continued his astonishing return to form by following the escape in the crosswind, as he often did in days of old, to win an intermediate sprint and take another 20 points in the chase for the green jersey before dropping back to the peloton.

Stage 6

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The Mark Cavendish comeback gathered pace Thursday as he won his second stage in three days with a triumph on a day for pure sprinters along a 1.7K home straight at Chateauroux.

After a barren five-year spell at the Tour, the win on Stage 6 took Cavendish’s tally at the world’s greatest bike race to 32 stage wins, just two short of Belgian great Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34.

“Please don’t ask me that question,” Cavendish said at the line when asked about the record.

Nobody else dared, but the rider himself broached the subject.

“You can’t look at this as ‘there’s no two without three,’ let’s just take it one day at a time,” he explained.

On a pancake-flat sixth stage run over a scenic 160K run through the Loire Valley, Dutch rookie Mathieu van der Poel kept hold of the yellow jersey in a race that, for the first time this edition, passed off without any major incident.

Less of a shock

The stage finished in the actor Gerard Depardieu’s hometown, a city Cavendish knows well after two previous stage victories in 2008 and 2011 on a finale that suits out-and-out sprinting, and on Thursday he once again produced a deadly last-second pounce for the line.

“When I knew there was a finish here it didn’t make me feel romantic as such but, there’s this massive old school Tour de France sprint finish. Here, Paris, and Bordeaux are the big sprint towns,” he said.

Two days ago, Cavendish shook his head in disbelief after winning Stage 4, but he was all grace and smiles after launching his 70km/h (43.5mph) finish after a sign from world champion teammate Julian Alaphilippe.

“It was less of a shock today than Tuesday’s win, we knew we could do it now, but it means just as much as that win,” said the 36-year-old, who keeps the green jersey for best sprinter.

Story of the Tour

The man known as the Manx Missile dismissed any suggestion that the quality of sprinters remaining operational was diminished due to the crashes that marred the opening stages.

“I’m sorry about my friend Caleb Ewan, it would have been an honor to sprint against him,” he said of the Australian who won three stages in 2019, but crashed out on Stage 3 this year.

“But look at the speed today. When I won here in 2011, 52km/h was standard, now it’s 54 or 55 km/h,” he said. “There’s an incredible group of sprinters here.”

Cavendish was teamless in December, but his old mentor Patrick Lefevere took him in at Deceuninck Quick-Step, with a sponsor providing the salary. In his old Belgian hunting grounds, Cavendish regained his smile after recovering from the Epstein Barr virus, an energy-sapping illness.

Against all expectations, when he was sent to the Tour of Turkey in April he won four stages, and another one in the Tour of Belgium in June. Stunning everyone, Lefevere then selected him ahead of Irish sprinter Sam Bennett for the Tour roster.

“What a story this is, something you couldn’t make up. It’s incredible,” a glowing Lefevere said at the finish line.

Race favorite and defending champion Tadej Pogačar said he had enjoyed the incident-free stage after winning the time trial Wednesday.

“It was fast but I felt good racing here,” he said of the fast-paced run alongside vast wheat fields and through vaunted vineyards.

“Tomorrow might be tricky, tough with that punchy finish,” Pogačar warned.

Friday’s stage is the longest on the Tour at almost 250K and features a finish hard to call: either a shake up of the peloton or perhaps another chance for Cavendish to take a further step towards Merckx’s record.

Stage 5

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Defending champion Tadej Pogačar fired out a defiant warning to would-be Tour de France title contenders by storming the individual time trial on Wednesday, while Mathieu van der Poel clung on to the overall lead after Stage 5.

Van der Poel kept hold of his yellow jersey by just eight seconds while Ineos pair Geraint Thomas and Richard Carapaz lost more than a minute on Slovenia’s ever-improving Pogačar, who is now second in the overall standings.

Ahead of the 27.2K time trial, Pogačar described the stage as critical to his chances of defending the title he won in 2020 and the manner in which he raced Wednesday backed up that statement.

Pogačar won last year’s Tour de France by overturning compatriot Primož Roglic’s comfortable lead in a time trial on the penultimate day, and here he appeared to do at least as well as that fateful day on the feted La Planche des Belles Filles slopes where he clinched the Tour on his rookie appearance.

“It couldn’t really have gone any better today,” said the 22-year-old UAE rider. “With so many fans along the route it was really emotional and I rate this as one of my best days in the saddle.”

“I have changed my riding position, it’s less aerodynamic but allows me a stronger push,” added Pogačar after timing 32 minutes exactly over the 27.2K course, clocking an average speed of 51km/h (32mph).

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His time was 44 seconds faster than that of Roglič, who fell heavily on Monday, and one minute and 18 seconds quicker than 2018 champion Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder before managing to pick himself up and finish the same crash-marred stage.

Pogačar’s time unseated Stefan Kung of Groupama-FDJ, who held the fastest time through much of the stage, with a 19-second lead. Jonas Vingegaard of Jumbo-Visma placed third in the stage, with Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma placing fourth, and Van der Poel taking fifth. Primož Roglič also gave a strong performance, despite his injuries, and placed seventh.

Pogačar’s phenomenal ride didn’t quite give him the overall lead but it leaves him in the driving seat for the title, one minute and 44 seconds ahead of Carapaz, with Roglič and Thomas four and 10 seconds further adrift respectively.

“There are still some tricky stages, even an easy looking day, you never know what can happen,” said Pogačar. “I’m further ahead now and attacks will come every day.”

Welshman Thomas said he had been feeling poorly, and had mixed feelings after the stage.

“I got the pacing right, but lacked a bit of power. I woke up feeling dreadful, and only loosened up out on the road,” he said.

Carapaz said he was glad the test was behind him, while Richie Porte suggested it was far from over saying, “We have a good tactical card to play, it was a good performance.”

The yellow jersey “gave me wings”

Van der Poel had vowed to defend the yellow jersey, but this was only the second time he had raced a time trial at the top level, and he reached beyond expectations to hold the lead on his debut Tour.

“He’s a true champion, he deserves his yellow, and he put on a great show, didn’t he,” Pogačar said of Van der Poel.

The raw emotions that accompanied Van der Poel taking yellow on Stage 2, avenging his recently deceased grandfather and former cyclist Raymond Poulidor, who never wore yellow despite winning seven stages, made way to a lighter-hearted side of “VDP” (as fans call him).

“The jersey gave me wings. I’m really proud of this achievement, it’s one I’ll remember,” said the 26-year-old who was cheered wildly by French fans packed tightly along the course.

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On a day when a spectator who caused a mass crash of riders on Stage 1 was arrested by French police, there were tens of thousands of roadside fans infringing onto the route as the tension mounted towards the finish line.

“This was the best day of my career, we didn’t think I could keep the jersey today, but we worked well past midnight last night in preparing it all,” said Van der Poel, who had a tailored yellow skinsuit on. Van der Poel will likely keep the overall lead a few days longer, with two flat stages to come.

Another happy man was veteran Mark Cavendish, who kept hold of the green jersey for best sprinter.

“I held back a bit today because there are two flat stages coming up and I’ll need my energy to sprint,” said the Isle of Man rider.

The Briton won Tuesday’s bunch sprint finish to take his Tour de France tally to 31 stage wins and close in on the all-time record of 34 held by Belgian great Eddy Merckx.

Stage 4

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Guillaume Horcajuelo - Pool//Getty Images

Mark Cavendish broke down and wept after sprinting to his first Tour de France stage victory in five years on Tuesday, taking his tally of wins to 31 in the world’s greatest bike race.

Cavendish only made the Deceuninck Tour de France roster after Irish sprinter Sam Bennett pulled out at the last minute and was generous in his praise of the team’s crucial role in his return to the top.

The signs looked good early on in the fourth stage when Cavendish won the intermediate sprint, his maximum 70-point gain on the day handing him the green jersey awarded to the sprint points leader. In the sprint on this relatively short stage Cavendish showed all his savvy, biding his time to edge ahead with 50 meters to go and eventually finishing ahead of French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni.

Known as the “Manx Missile,” the rider from the Isle of Man shook his head in disbelief as he pulled on the green jersey.

“It’s been five years too long,” said Cavendish, inching closer to Belgian cycling legend Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 individual stage wins between 1969 and 1975.

“There has been a lot of talk about my condition and I hope this gives hope to people in my condition,” said the 36-year-old who was diagnosed in 2017 with the Epstein-Barr virus, which can cause persistent fatigue.

Conversely, there was heartbreak for Belgian rookie Brent Van Moer as the 23-year-old Lotto-Soudal rider was caught just 150 meters from the finish line after leading an escape for the majority of the attack.

“I had fire in my eyes”

Cavendish hailed world champion Julian Alaphilippe, from whom he inherited the green jersey, after the Frenchman gave everything to get Cavendish into position.

“I didn’t think we were going to catch him,” Cavendish admitted. “The GC guys were ahead blocking the road and we couldn’t get them going.”

“But I had fire in my eyes,” said an emotional Cavendish.

“It’s not easy winning a Tour de France stage, the hardest thing has been people not understanding how hard it was to win those stages,” he said of the years when his career seemed to have stalled.

“It’s not about proving anyone wrong. I knew I could do it, I just need someone to believe in me and that was Patrick Lefevere, and my wife at home, those are the people I wanted to believe,” he continued.

Cavendish was out of contract in December but was taken ‘home’ to Deceuninck Quick-Step, who call themselves “the Wolfpack” by Belgian team boss Lefevere, a larger-than-life character Cavendish has always trusted and believed in. Lefevere sent Cavendish to the level two Tour of Turkey in April and when he won four stages there, the foundation for a return to the top had been laid.

“I know why I’m good or bad, and I need a happy place, a team that functions as a team, a bike that fitted me, that’s why I came back to [Deceuninck] Quick-Step for the happiest time of my life,” said the sprinter.

“The Wolfpack thing is not just the face of a wolf on a t-shirt, look at Julian Alaphilippe today giving all that, I feel privileged,” Cavendish said.

Alaphilippe won Stage 1 to take the yellow jersey before losing it to Mathieu van der Poel on Sunday, but on Wednesday’s time-trial the French rider, on paper at least, has a good chance of winning it back.

The 2020 champion, Tadej Pogačar, is also gunning for a win on Wednesday.

“Yes, tomorrow is critical,” Pogačar said. “I’ve been thinking about it since I got here.”

Dutch rookie Van der Poel, who shed tears in memory of his renowned cyclist grandfather, Raymond Poulidor, on Sunday, said he felt he would lose the overall lead during the Stage 5 time trial.

“We’ll be trying to get another stage victory somewhere else, it’ll be too tough for us tomorrow,” he said.

Alaphilippe has worn the yellow jersey 18 times and trails Van der Poel by just eight seconds, with Pogačar in sixth overall, a further 30 seconds down on his chief threat ahead of Wednesday’s 27K test.

Stage 3

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Benoit Tessier - Pool//Getty Images

Race favourites Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas, as well as ace sprinters Peter Sagan and Caleb Ewan were all involved in nasty crashes before Tim Merlier won a drama-filled Stage 3 of the Tour de France on Monday, with one manager making a passionate plea for new safety measures.

Merlier’s teammate Mathieu van der Poel kept hold of the overall lead on a brutal day of racing peppered with falls on the rain-slick, narrow winding roads in Brittany with Thomas dislocating a shoulder and 2020 runner-up Roglič losing valuable time.

Yellow jersey wearer Van der Poel cut a dour figure compared to the tear-filled elation he experienced after winning Sunday's stage two.

“It was a very fast, technical run-in with all the general classification guys racing for their places, it’s difficult to say anything now,” said Van der Poel.

“It’s a big race, (in the) overall standings guys fighting against sprinters, for sure it’s a dangerous sport,” said the Dutch Alpecin-Fenix rider in muted celebrations after he not only retained the yellow jersey but also led out Merlier’s sprint train.

“Will mothers let their kids cycle?”

With two mass pile-ups marring Stage 1 and an ensuing hunt for the mystery culprit French police have vowed to catch up with, followed by the thrill and raw emotion of Van der Poel winning one for his illustrious cycling family on Stage 2, drama was always likely to be coming round the next corner.

And so it proved on the seafront at the Plage de Testel, 2018 champion Thomas losing his concentration and hitting the ground so hard he dislocated a shoulder before making it back to the peloton with the help of three teammates. Images of Thomas shaking his legs while having his shoulder put back in by medics won’t be easy to forget.

Slovenia’s Roglič then hit the tarmac hip first with 10K to go, and while shaken he also limited his losses with the help of teammates. Although his Tour is not finished, he now has time to make up on Tadej Pogačar and Thomas.

The worst fall came in the home straight with Caleb Ewan hitting Merlier’s back wheel at over 80kph and taking Slovak sprint specialist Sagan down with him, the pair sliding for tens of meters on the tarmac.

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Ewan’s main sprint rival from FDJ, Arnaud Demare, had also fallen on a bend just outside Pontivy and his manager Marc Madiot was furious.

“Kids, families, mothers are watching this, will mothers want their kids to cycle? We have been speaking about this for years, this isn’t cycling, what condition is Ewan in,” said an impassioned Madiot.

Ineos’s Carapaz into third

In the chaos of all the crashes, Ineos’s Ecuadorian rider Richard Carapaz was the overall title contender ending the day with relative good news as he climbed to third in the overall standings.

Van der Poel enjoys an eight-second lead over Stage 1 winner Julian Alaphilippe, with Carapaz in third at 31 seconds along with Wout van Aert of Jumbo-Visma.

But Pogačar and Thomas both lost 26 seconds Monday while a grazed Roglič crossed the line one minute and 20 seconds down, having rallied heroically to save his Tour.

As for the mystery woman in yellow who caused the first crash on day one with her sign held up in front of the pack, French authorities are still actively looking for her, a high-ranking gendarme told AFP Monday.

“We don’t know who she is, if she’s German or Franco-German or whatever. But don’t worry, we’ll find her,” the gendarme said. “She isn’t at risk of much more than a fine, the ASO (race organizers) are making this move more as a warning to fans on the roadside.”

There were massed ranks of fans again Monday, but none of the falls were their fault.

Stage 2

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Mathieu van der Poel won Stage 2 of the Tour de France on Sunday to claim the overall leader’s yellow jersey and strike a blow for his famous cycling family.

The Dutch 25-year-old is the grandson of French cycling icon, the late Raymond Poulidor, who was a regular on the Tour de France podium and beloved of French fans despite never wearing the fabled yellow jersey.

Van der Poel dropped to the tarmac gasping for breath before weeping with his hands covering his face as the weight of Poulidor's historic legacy was settled on two dramatic ascents of the same Brittany hill, the Mur-de-Bretagne.

“Imagine how he’d feel, he’s not here,” said van der Poel of Poulidor who died in 2019 at the age of 83. “This was my last chance on the Tour to do it, it’s so good.”

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Van der Poel celebrates after winning Stage 2 and taking the yellow jersey.

French fans saw their own hero Julian Alaphilippe lose the yellow jersey, but cheered the Dutchman both for his gung-ho passion and for his beloved grandfather.

Van der Poel won a maximum of 18 bonus seconds for crossing the summit in the lead twice, and then winning by a clear margin after accelerating away from a chasing clutch of elite road racers.

Defending champion Tadej Pogačar was second followed by Primoz Roglič, while Alaphilippe was fifth at eight seconds.

Stage 1

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Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe dusted himself off from a fall to claim the first yellow jersey of the Tour de France on Saturday, winning Stage 1 by a clear margin on a crash-marred opening day.

World champion Alaphilippe shot up the early section of the final 3K climb taking 10 bonus seconds at the finish line and ended another 12 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger.

Australia’s Michael Matthews was second and is second overall at 16 seconds while Slovenia’s Primož Roglič came third and is in the same position in the overall standings.

Crossing the line in his world champion's rainbow jersey, Alaphilippe put his thumb in his mouth in honor of his newborn son with his partner Marion Rousse, a former professional cyclist and now commentator.

INEOS Grenadiers leader Geraint Thomas and defending champion Tadej Pogačar were just behind this group on a hugely stressful finish with major time gaps at stake that almost certainly led to the second of two mass falls on the day.

Just before the finish, around 20 riders lay stricken and needing attention shortly after a first mass fall on the Tour de France opening stage including four time champion Chris Froome.

Unlike the earlier crash caused by a fan, the second came as the peloton was going around 70kph some 5km from the finish line.

tour de france 2021 stage 1 crash
One of two mass crashes on Stage 1.
Pool//Getty Images

A first fall happened some 45K away from the finish line of stage one of the Tour between Brest and Landerneau.

A fan brandishing a sign brought down German rider Tony Martin who was riding near the head of the pack and close to excited roadside spectators.

The Jumbo-Visma rider fell, bringing down a huge number of fellow peloton members behind him. The crash held up the race for five minutes while bikes and bodies were untangled.

The race leader slowed down to allow the stragglers to catch up and despite the spectacular tangle only one rider, Germany's Jasha Sutterlin of DSM, has so far had to pull out due to the accident.

Italian champion Sonny Colbrelli and Dutch rider Wout van Aert, who ran over Martin before falling head over heels, had both been amongst the favorites to win the first stage hilltop finish but were both badly delayed.

Hordes of unmasked fans decked out in red-and-white polka dot caps and shirts lined the narrow Brittany country lanes for the 197K stage as France eases its COVID-19 restrictions.