Le Tour Stage 1: (Barely) Controlled Chaos
A crash-marred opening stage produces a thrilling finish & a fitting inaugural Yellow Jersey
Today’s opening stage of the 2021 Tour de France surpassed all expectations, both positively and negatively. While the story of the day will be the fan-caused pileup with 42km-to-go that sowed complete chaos for the next 20-kilometers, those who watched to the end were treated to one of the most impressive opening stage victories in the modern history of the sport.
At the bottom of the final, 3km-long climb, Julian Alaphilippe surged clear of a highly-reduced peloton, packed with more one-day talent than nearly any other bike race in history, and defied the odds by holding off the chasers to take a magnificent stage victory and the race’s inaugural Yellow Jersey.
Despite multiple massive crashes and the difficult finish, many of the GC favorites escaped the day still within reach of the overall lead. Alaphilippe holds a fairly large 14-second gap to Roglic in third place while the rest are bunched together between 14-23-seconds back. There were however a few major GC casualties, with Miguel Angel Lopez, Richie Porte, and Tao Geoghegan Hart all losing minutes after being caught behind crashes due to slight positioning errors.
Stage 1 Notebook:
61km: Caleb Ewan beats Sagan in the intermediate sprint. The first time he’s ever gone for it, but I think it’s because there are so few pure sprint stages. Cavendish initially tries to contest but he isn’t even close.
43km: Jumbo has moved up to the front of the peloton, but Tony Martin, in second position, hits a spectator’s sign (which read ‘Go grandparents’?), which puts in motion a total disaster for Jumbo and the peloton behind.
Ineos and DQS get through mostly unscathed and will benefit from this even though Ineos did lose Tao Geoghegan Hart, whose saddle is hooked by another rider’s handlebars.
40km: I’m not sure what happened here. Lots of chaos and riders off the back after being caught up in the crash. Initially, we can see DQS and Ineos sitting up to wait.
27.2km: But, once the majority of the peloton comes back, DQS, Ineos and Alpecin-Fenix waste no time in getting back to the front and pushing the pace. I still believe Sagan and Van Aert are off the back at this point, so they might be attempting to keep them distanced before the final kick, or at the minimum, simply tire them out.
14.2km: DQS, Ineos, Movistar, and Alepcin-Fenix are crowding the front of the peloton since this is an extremely precarious portion of an opening Tour stage. Jumbo is banged up from the crash, which forces Roglic to freelance on the back of the Ineos train. Meanwhile, Miguel Angel Lopez’s Movistar team is at the front, but he isn’t on their wheel and is too far back.
11km: And sure enough, just a few kms later, we get a brutal high-speed pileup that dooms anyone riding more than 20 riders back in the peloton. Even though Ineos was working so hard to be at the front, Richie Porte fell too far back into the group and gets caught up. Roglic’s ability to fight for his own position at the front saves him here (also note the Mom of the Year Candidate deftly moves her child out of the way of flying riders on the right side of the road).
9.3km: Ineos is driving at the front to get in position for the final climb. Say what you will about them, but they are the best in the peloton and getting to the front and staying out of trouble. This is what makes Porte’s decision to not follow them prior to the previous crash so baffling.
5km: DQS is riding expertly at the front to set up Alaphilippe for an attack on the final climb.
3km: As the climb starts, DQS is lined out on the front and putting the peloton under serious pressure. An Alaphilippe attack is imminent.
2.6km: DQS is absolutely hammering. Dropping everyone, including Alaphilippe, who has to make an effort to jump up to his teammate’s wheel.
2.4km: Wout, Sonny Colbrelli, and MvdP are sitting 3rd, 4th, and 5th wheel behind Alaphilippe’s DQS teammate. This teammate acts like a basketball screen and allows Alaphilippe to get a small initial gap before he attacks. Once he goes, he doesn’t actually throw down an absurd attack but just settles into a hard pace after a few pedal strokes out of the saddle. He looks comfortable, nobody can really respond, and this is where he wins the stage. Wout stays on the front and sets a steady pace for Roglic, which tells us he is all-in for teamwork and not really chasing stage wins.
2.1km: Roglic attacks and Pogacar follows. They both get a small gap on the field but can’t close down Alaphilippe.
1.9km: Alaphilippe has a gap with Pierre LaTour and Roglic/Pogacar behind.
1.6km: MvdP finally makes a move from the peloton. Gets nowhere though.
1.5km-1km: Alaphilippe is absolutely flying. He is shaking his head and clearly suffering, but if he can keep up this pace, the group behind can’t catch him. This is even more impressive considering the blood dripping from his right knee, which tells us he must have crashed earlier in the day. This, along with his head shake, really boosts his classically French showmanship appeal.
Finish: Alaphilippe solos to one of the most impressive victories of his career. Even after sitting up to celebrate, he finishes 8-seconds in front of the chasing group, which is led in by Michael Matthews and Primoz Roglic.
Current Filtered GC Picture:
Julian Alaphilippe +0
Primoz Roglic +14
Tadej Pogacar +18
Geraint Thomas +18
Richard Carapaz +23
Richie Porte +2’26
This was a completely insane opening day. I thought the Breton parcours and lack of 3km rule might serve up some craziness, but this surpassed my expectations.
As I said above, Alaphilippe's win was incredibly impressive. He drops the best one-day riders in the world after crashing earlier in the stage, grabs his 6th career Tour stage win, and will be the first rider to wear the Yellow Jersey. His team also deserves some praise, they set him up for the win with peerless teamwork.
It isn’t clear that he needed to attack that far off, but you can’t really argue with the result. Also, Alaphilippe is the ultimate showman, so he would value the sight of a solo win over surging clear on a reduced bunch in the final meters a la Roglic.
Also, if he sits in until 1km-to-go, perhaps a rider like Roglic or Matthews could have gone with him. By going so far out, he showed us just how confident he is in his form right now.
It sounds crazy, but I am still not counting him out for the GC. He will have another shot at winning the stage tomorrow and at a minimum will keep racking up time bonus seconds.
The stage was a mixed bag for Jumbo. On one hand, it was a smashing success: Roglic dodged serious injury (that we know of), gained time on every other major contender, and looked to be the strongest pure GC rider in the race.
But on the other hand, their main workhorses like Tony Martin, Sepp Kuss, and Mike Teunissen all went down hard and even struggled to finish the stage. All three will be banged up, which will make it tough for them to control the race and protect Roglic for the rest of the race.
It is incredibly telling that he was able to finish right behind a pure fast-finisher, Matthews, after such a long layoff from racing. He has clearly come into this race in perhaps the best shape of his life.
Wout was working for Roglic, which is interesting. Roglic gets 3rd and takes time bonus seconds, Ineos looked like one of their riders was dropped.
Ineos is another major team with a mixed bag day. They lose Geoghegan Hart and Porte as GC options, but, on the flip side, their intra-team GC mess is already settling.
With Geoghegan Hart and Porte already minutes down and Carapaz getting dropped at the finish, Thomas is the clear leader of the team. Having the leadership picture pruned will really help him as the race gets into the mountains.
Van der Poel appeared to have taken a step back from the form he had at Tour de Suisse. This could be a symptom of his inexperience in high-level road racing. He was beating up on Alaphilippe all spring, but when the lights are the brightest, Ala knows how to crank it up a notch. I would guess that Ala’s training all year has been leading to this moment, while Van der Poel has a more scattered, less-focused approach.
You could see this inexperience throughout the day. He dropped back to change his shoes, which is a little strange and could be seen taking pee breaks without teammates, which is a massive no-no for any stage favorite.
He finished directly behind Alaphilippe on stage two of Tirreno-Adriatico which was a 7.5km-long climb, so in theory, he should have been able to contest this shorter, 3km-long finish climb.
Michael Matthews was one of the original sprinters/climbers but has been completely disrupted by this new age. He gets a big, and somewhat unexpected, 2nd place today, but unfortunately, this continues a trend. 4-5 years ago he was being beaten by Sagan, now, just as he is surpassing Sagan, the newer generation is besting him on these hard finishes.
The fan-caused crash nearly ruined the stage for me and is a really unfortunate byproduct of the fan/athlete dynamic in cycling. Riders like Roglic are paid millions of euros a year and their teams put millions more in chasing a victory at the Tour, only to have it potentially foiled by a single fan with a sign. However, in this case, the Tour lucked out somewhat and appears to have dodged any major contenders being injured to losing serious time due to this crash.
Israel Start-Up was targeting the stage win today with Mike Woods and Dan Martin, but both lost major time after being caught behind the crashes. It isn’t great to let a shot at a stage win pass by, but this is ultimately for the best. I never believed in Woods as a GC leader, and this will free up both riders to chase stage wins.
ISN’s road captain Chris Froome crashed hard in the pileup with 11km-to-go and looked to be really banged up. I wouldn’t be shocked if he isn’t on the start-line tomorrow morning.
I was surprised to see Ewan going after Green jersey points in the intermediate sprint. He has never targeted these before, but my guess is that he knows his chances are limited at stage finishes this year and that he has to make the difference elsewhere. He was looking great until he was brought down in the first big crash. If he suffered any type of injuries, it could seriously hamper his campaign for Green.
Stage 2 Preview & Predictions
After an opening stage that was so crushing both physically and mentally, the peloton will be rewarded with an even harder and more nervous day tomorrow. Riders like Sagan, Van Aert, Van der Poel might be the betting markets’ favorites to win tomorrow’s stage, but don’t be fooled, this is closer to a summit finish than a hybrid uphill sprint stage.
The stage finishes up the Mur-de-Bretagne, which is a brutal climb. On paper, it doesn’t look too difficult, but stats hide its true nature. The climb is incredibly steep for the first half, before leveling off in the last .5km, which actually blows open any gaps that form on the steep section.
The last time the Tour finished here in 2018, climbing-specialist Dan Martin won the stage, with Pierre LaTour and Alejandro Valverde rounding out the podium while GC gaps opened.
It is also worth noting that a young Julian Alaphilippe came in 4th place that day.
Making matters harder is the forecast, which calls for rain all day. This will increase the chances of more crashes, which will put the peloton on edge, which will only increase the odds of crashes even further.
Prediction: Primoz Roglic thrives on the steep final kilometer and powers away for the stage win. Alaphilippe defends his race lead by coming in 2nd place.
Where/How to Watch Stage 2:
Free: Tiz Cycling
Broadcast Time: 7:00 a.m. – 11:40 a.m. EST (estimate)
BTP Velogames Fantasy League Update:
In the BTP premium subscribers fantasy league, Kris Pepe came out strong on the opening stage and already holds a massive 315 point lead over me in 2nd place, proving yet again why he is one of the premier fantasy cycling minds in the world.