Le Tour Stage 11: The Giant of Provence Produces Stunning Scenery and Thrilling Racing
The famous climb of Mt. Ventoux produces a historic stage win while a GC contender separates himself from the rest
When the 2021 Tour de France route was revealed months ago, eyes were immediately drawn to stage 11, which featured two ascents of the crushing Mt. Ventoux. When the "Giant of Provence" is featured once on a stage, it immediately makes that stage one of the hardest in the race, so the fact that the peloton was required twice meant the stage was certain to be one for the ages.
What nobody would have guessed when the stage was unveiled was that Wout van Aert, the only rider who has been able to even remotely challenge Mark Cavendish in the sprint finishes, would ruthlessly drop every one of his breakaway companions to cross the finish line for a magnificent solo victory and give his battered Jumbo-Visma squad a much-needed reprieve from their terrible luck so far at this race.
Van Aert had to put up a fight just to make the initial breakaway after the stage started off hot with Julian Alaphilippe constantly attacking through the stunning Provençal landscape for the first 50-kilometers of the stage. After Van Aert was firmly planted in the move, Ineos, instead of riding with the attacking ethos they talked so much about last year, made the extremely bizarre move of getting to the front to race in a defensive position that neither reeled in the breakaway or put UAE and Pogacar under pressure.
On the final climb, the only rider able to even remotely test Pogacar was Jonas Vingegaard when the young Dane produced the stunning scene of Pogacar dropping off his wheel as he crested the climb to take the plunge to the line. But, with such a large buffer to second, Pogacar simply had to wait for Richard Carapaz and Rigoberto Uran, and the two podium contenders kindly pulled the Yellow jersey back up to Vingegaard just before the finish line.
This meant that at the finish line, after the glow of Van Aert’s stunning performance had faded, Pogacar had lost no time to Vingegaard and actually increased his lead to second place by over three minutes due to stage 9 hero Ben O’Connor losing contact and falling to fifth overall. While many pundits and fans will cite this bobble as a sign of the race for the overall win coming back to life, Pogacar’s ability to manage it without losing time and Ineos's decision to defend his lead for him could just as easily mean that Pogacar’s lead is as safe as ever.
Stage 11 Race Notebook:
173km: Julian Alaphilippe and Nairo Quintana are the first riders to attack and force a gap.
172km: Tony Martin crashes and has to leave the race.
167km: Wout van Aert pulls a massive group off the front of the peloton. He must be feeling great to make a run at the break on a day like today.
166km: Alaphilippe drops Quintana and is using a ton of energy to stay up front solo. I’m not sure exactly why though.
158km Intermediate sprint: Alaphilippe gets the first-place points with a huge effort and Jasper Philipsen gets 7th. Did Ala really invest all that work just to get the first-place points at the sprint? He is also dropping Cavendish and hurting his chances of finishing inside the time limit.
156km: Alaphilippe has done a ton of work already, but he and his five-rider breakaway are just dangling right in front of the peloton. Meanwhile, Geraint Thomas is struggling at the back of the peloton, which isn’t a great sign this early in the race.
Oddly, despite Thomas’ struggles to stay with the group, Ineos gets to the front and starts chasing in the peloton behind. Why? Shouldn’t they be in the break and trying to sow chaos? At this rate, they are simply helping Pogacar and UAE control the race.
118km: Even with Ineos chasing, the gap is actually going out to 4’35, which makes this even more baffling. If they aren’t pacing hard enough to put Pogacar under pressure, then what’s the point? They are just doing peacemaking and using riders UAE should be
113km: AG2R is already losing riders, not great for 0’connor, but he likely isn’t going to be asked to set pace anytime soon
99km: Wout’s chase group catches the Martin/Alaphilippe group up front.
98km: Ben O’Connor has a flat and has to wait for the car. A teammate here would really help him pace back on
94km: gap to the break at 5’08, not huge but Ineos can’t pull this back by themselves. Pogacar comfortably sitting in and not being out under any pressure
91km: David Gaudu being dropped already, wow, something must be wrong with the team. Illness?
79km: Geraint Thomas drops off after setting pace. Ineos is losing riders while UAE is getting off the hook here
77km: The break summits Ventoux for the first time and Alaphilippe attacks over the top, which takes/wastes a ton of energy while Van Aert calmly sits in the wheels behind. It isn’t clear to me why Alaphilippe is wasting this much energy to get away solo with another climb of Ventoux remaining.
53km: I had never seen the descent off Ventoux before, since I believe it has never been ridden in the Tour, and we got some absolutely gorgeous helicopter shots of the riders coming down in and into the Provençal landscape below. Also, we see that it is a fast, straightforward descent that will make it hard for solo riders to stay ahead of a chasing group.
37.2km: Kenny Ellisonde attacks from the breakaway and gets up the road to become the leader of the race.
36.5km: Ineos is still at the front in the peloton, which means they have been working all day and letting UAE and Pogacar just sit in the group, ride their wheels and not be put under any pressure, which is completely insane.
35.4km: Wout van Aert attacks and catches Kenny Ellisonde at the front, this is really impressive. To be contesting the sprint win the day before and then challenging for the win on one of the hardest climbs in the sport the next is almost beyond comprehension.
35.1km: Ineos is still at the front. Pogacar is down to two teammates and UAE would have trouble responding to attacks and controlling the pace here, but instead, the race is being controlled by Ineos.
Ineos being on the front here makes sense, but this is where they needed to hit the front, not at 120km-to-go, they should have let UAE ride all day AND THEN come to the front here to put pressure on Pogacar. As it stands, they are depleted and can’t really turn the screws.
33.3km: In the chase group, Bauke Mollema drops Alaphilippe, who is certainly paying the price for his pointless and senseless attacks earlier in the stage.
33.1km: Kenny Ellisonde dropped by Van Aert just after I place a live bet on him. Oops. Van Aert alone at the front now and will almost certainly win the stage.
So far, Wout has climbed faster than the Ineos-led peloton, which shows the pace isn’t nearly high enough and makes their decision to lead even more confusing. They should only be on the front to inflict pain, not simply set tempo.
An explanation is that they’ve decided to stop trying to drop Pogacar and are just focused on O’Connor, Vingegaard, and Uran, who, in theory, could be distanced with this pace.
30.9km: Michał Kwiatkowski is pacing and Ben O’Connor starts to drop. Did Ineos really put all this work in to distance Ben O’Connor?
30.5km: It isn’t game over for O'Connor yet but what is most concerning is that he is losing ground so far. If he could find a rhythm and hold the gap to 2-3 minutes, he could salvage the day, but at this rate, he’ll fall out of the top ten.
30.3km: Wout’s gap is still 4’27 to the Ineos-led peloton, which shows just how fast he is going.
28.6km: O’Connor getting caught by riders from behind and can’t grab their wheel, which is a really bad sign. It usually means you’ve gone too deep and are blowing up.
27.4km: Ineos has three riders compared to UAE’s two, was it really worth it? Perhaps distancing O’Connor makes the podium more realistic, but I have to think they could have tried to put Pogacar under more pressure by not racing defensively. Wout has 4’22, so they aren’t really pulling him back.
26.3km: Wout has this in the bag, this is wild stuff. So impressive and not sure I’ve ever seen anything like this. He still has 4’20 on the peloton.
24.6km: Majka tries to up the pace to crack Kwio because Majka knows he will be dropped soon, which is a good idea, and then gets dropped. Pogacar is isolated, but, what can anyone really do?
25.2km: Van Aert’s powerful style harkens back to the likes of Merckx and he can see the weather station at the summit lingering tantalizingly in the distance. If he can make it to that station with just the slightest gap, he will pull off an impossible stage win’
24.2km: Wout’s gap down to 3’41, so the pace behind must be really hard.
23.3km: Enric Mas is dropped.
23.1km: Kwiatkowski pulls off and Carapaz is now solo. This causes the pace to ease off. We can see Carapaz isn’t feeling well and even tells the other GC riders to come to the front. This is the perfect time for one of the contenders to attack.
23km: Vingegaard uses this perfect moment and throws down a serious attack. Only Pogacar can respond while Carapaz and Uran are dropped slightly. This is f-ing insane if Carapaz gets dropped now after his team was on the front all day.
22.5km: Vingegaard cracks Pogacar and he surges clear! What a day for Jumbo, but now they are stuck in an awkward scenario where they have a GC rider riding towards their stage winner, and would benefit by having him sit up at the top to help him drive the gap open on the descent.
22.3km: Pogacar is dropped but still hasn’t been caught by Carapaz and Uran, how far back are they?
21.2km: Vingegaard is flying while Pogacar is creeping. It is worth mentioning that he is still ahead of Carapaz and Uran.
19.9km: Pogacar summits ahead of Carapaz and Uran despite his troubles.
18km: Vingegaard has around 45-seconds on Carapaz/Uran, who catch Pogacar soon and the three start working together to catch Vingegaard.
15.9km: Trek duo is 1’12 back, but Wout is probably a far too skilled descender to lose any time here, and if anything, will pull time out on them.
14.2km: Vingegaard about to catch the Trek duo, and honestly, Wout could sit up, pace them and still win the sprint.
11.6km: Pogacar, Carapaz, and Uran are reeling in Vingegaard, who are all catching the Trek boys, who are really creeping down this descent.
9km: The chasing trio could actually pull Vingegaard back by the line, which would mean this day was a bit of a push for everyone but Uran, who puts time into O’Connor.
5km: Wout looks so comfortable on this descent. He is so skilled and really has no stakes here. Even if he was caught, he’d win the sprint.
2km: Pogacar is getting pulled along by Carapaz and Uran and will probably catch Vingegaard, the guy and his team haven’t had to do anything all day.
Finish: Wout rolls in for a magnificent stage win while Vinegaard is caught by the chasing trio of Carapaz, Uran, and Pogacar
Stage Top Five:
Wout van Aert +0
Kenny Elissonde +1’14
Bauke Mollema +1’14
Tadej Pogacar +1’38
Rigoberto Uran +138
Stage GC Gaps:
GC Top Five:
1) I didn’t have high hopes due to what I thought was too much sustained climbing and a downhill finish, but the stage was awesome. Instead of a breakaway fighting for the win 15-minutes up the road with no true stars, we get Wout Van Aert putting in the second half of one of the most impressive two-day performances ever seen in the Tour and the GC group chasing him close behind.
Despite all the climbing, we get no big gaps among the top GC riders. This continues the trend of sprint stages like stage 3 creating bigger gaps than massive mountain stages.
O’Connor is distanced and Vingegaard shows us he isn’t giving up and might be actually be getting stronger.
And to top it off, we get a tasty little amuse-bouche of a resurgent GC battle with Pogacar’s bobble towards the top of Ventoux.
But, it is important to point out that he didn’t actually lose any time to his closest challengers.
And in fact, he increased his overall lead by over three minutes on the stage and now has a massive 5’18 gap to second place.
2) Wout’s win caps off one of the most impressive two-day performances I’ve ever seen. He couldn’t quite beat Cavendish in the bunch sprint so he just decided to win the hardest mountain stage of the race.
I guess he is recovering from the surgery pretty well and now looks even better than last year after looking a bit off his best for the first 10 stages.
He has won stage wins in the last three editions of the Tour, which no other rider has done.
While he was outshone by Van der Poel in the first week, this is a performance that not even Van der Poel could touch.
And it isn’t really an apples-to-apples comparison since Van der Poel came into the race planning on leaving after 7 stages, so could go deeper and peak for the opening week.
3) Vingegaard puts in an incredible performance on Ventoux and looked to be the strongest GC rider in the race. But, alas, he is caught on the descent and all his work came to naught.
This is exactly why mountain stages finishing on descents deter attacking. Unlike a summit finish, there is no guarantee your attacking effort will be rewarded with an actual time gain.
I don’t think Vingegaard will be able to overtake Pogacar’s 5+ minute lead, but after his performance today, he looks like the best bet to finish in 2nd.
4) It is hard to tell if Pogacar cracked or just let Vingegaard’s wheel go knowing it wasn’t worth the effort to chase him with the others close behind.
But what we do know is that the decision to follow the initial move was a mistake since he has over five minutes on Vingegaard and there was no need to put himself in the red by responding. A seasoned Yellow Jersey would have immediately looked to Carapaz and Uran to close the gap. This eagerness to chase is actually a weakness, that while perhaps not fatal in this Tour, should be exploited by a team/rider in the future.
After he ‘cracked,’ he was able to go over the summit ahead of Uran and Carapaz, which means he was still moving pretty fast and likely was able to control his pace. This allowed him to sit on Carapaz and Uran on the descent and put out a lot less energy.
As things happened, he got to ride the final km of the climb slower than the other three, got a free ride on the descent, and didn’t lose any time. So all in all, a pretty great day for him, especially if this was his ‘bad’ day.
One theory is that the heat got to him and if this is the case, it is going to be a tough third week for him.
But then again, his gap is so big at this point, 5’18, that he could have multiple bad days and still be fine. That shows why it is important to strike while the iron is hot and take time when you can.
Also, as today showed, even if a rider gets up the road, if he can stay with the others in the top five, they will gladly pull that rider back for him since they all have more to lose than Pogacar.
The commentators were saying Pogacar has gone too deep, but what exactly does this mean? Should he have not taken time in the time trial and mountains and saved it for some later date? It would certainly make no sense if he was putting out big efforts and not taking time, but when you make a big effort and take time, it seems like a worthy trade-off. It isn’t like the group 3 minutes back in a mountain stage is putting out a significantly easier effort.
5) Carapaz moves up into 4th place overall, but Ineos certainly won’t, and shouldn’t, be happy with the outcome stage. Their tactics today were baffling, accomplished next-to-nothing, and leaves the team tired and weakened for the key stages to come.
They took up the pacemaking far too early, with around 130km to go, and rode essentially a defensive position that neither gave them a chance for the stage win or put Pogacar’s UAE team under pressure.
It wasn’t clear if they had a plan or were just falling into old habits and muscle memory took over.
If they were going to attack Pogacar, they needed to force UAE to the front early in the stage and then take over on the final ascent of Ventoux to strip away Pogacar’s support and attempt to force a gap between Carapaz and Pogacar over the top of the climb.
But, instead, they gave UAE the day off.
Also concerning is the lack of imagination they’ve shown all race long. They were supposed to be the strongest team who could pick Pogacar under pressure with their strength-in-numbers, but so far, have looked completely bewildered.
And to top it off, they lose the powerhouse Luke Rowe, who finished outside the time limit after riding himself into the ground on the front of the race in the early kilometers. This hurts their chances of putting Vingegaard, Uran, and Pogacar under pressure later in the race.
6) Jumbo has a great day with a stage win and Vingegaard’s resurgence, but if we dig a little deeper, some cracks start to appear in their strategy.
For example, where is Vingegaard’s support from his Jumbo team? He is sitting in 3rd place overall but still doesn’t seem to be a priority for his team and has been isolated at nearly every critical moment.
Sepp Kuss is a climbing specialist but hasn’t been able to stay with the leaders on a single final climb at this Tour or even act as a satellite rider due to an inability to stay ahead of the GC group from the break. This matters because Vingegaard could have clearly used a teammate at the top of the final climb to help him pry that gap open.
The Wout van Aert stage win is incredible, but if they were really focused on GC, they would have had him sit up and pace Vingegaard down the descent to pull out time on the chasers.
7) The days’ GC Winners & Losers:
O’Connor loses 3’07 and drops to 5th overall, but still only 26-seconds off the podium. I thought he would hold strong, but I was clearly wrong with that prediction. And while I liked his chances to hold onto the podium, I’m not as bullish about his odds of actually picking up time on Uran, Vingegaard, and Carapaz, so he is probably out of podium contention.
Carapaz lets another mountain stage go by where he doesn’t put any time into Uran and Vingegaard, and it is becoming less and less clear that he is Pogacar’s biggest rival.
This means Uran is the big winner of the day. Carapaz only a single second off the podium but still hasn’t been able to take time on Vingegaard and Uran in the mountains, and both are better time trialists.
Pogacar increases his lead from 2’01 on stage 10 to 5’18 on stage 11.
Vingegaard moves onto the podium and looks like the strongest climber in the race at the moment.
8) Nairo comes in 33-minutes down and could actually lose the KOM jersey to Wout in the coming days. I’m surprised he struggled to stay up in the break on a stage that would have been the perfect stage for him 3-4 years ago.
9) Mt. Ventoux is a similar gradient to the final climb on the Olympic course in Tokyo, so Wout van Aert must be feeling pretty good about his chances for gold.
10) The time limit today was huge, 47-minutes, so Cavendish made it fairly comfortably, but I have to imagine the stage sapped him and his DQS teammates, like Alaphilippe. Will this decrease their chances of forcing/winning a sprint on stage 12?
The question is all relative and it will depend on how much Cavendish suffered versus the other sprinters.
Wout van Aert, his biggest rival so far, certainly went deeper to win the stage, and will be feeling the effects tomorrow.
But riders like Sonny Colbrelli, Jasper Philipsen, Michael Matthews, and Peter Sagan certainly had a much easier day and will certainly be fresher tomorrow.
Stage 12 Preview & Predictions:
Tomorrow’s 159km jaunt to Nimes will likely give Mark Cavendish yet another chance to win a bunch sprint and potentially tie Eddy Merckx’s stage win record.
The only thing I could imagine getting in the way of a Cavendish win is a complete refusal by riders teams to give his DQS team any work. At this point, who in their right mind would work to help them pull a breakaway back?
There were strong breakaway riders like Thomas De Gendt finishing in the grupetto today and will be feeling relatively fresh and ready to go tomorrow. It could take a big effort from DQS to keep them in check.
A 3.9km-long climb 12kms before the finish line also provides an opportunity for a late-race attack.
Having said all that, the last time the race finished in 2019, Caleb Ewan won a bunch sprint.
Prediction: Cavendish wins in a bunch sprint to tie Merckx’s record while Pogacar and UAE get an easy day of defending their race lead.