Le Tour Stage 21: A Superstar Delivers

The final stage of the 2021 Tour de France delivers an incredible win & a potential glimpse into the future of the sport

In a nearly unprecedented repeat, Wout van Aert backed up his stage 20 time trial victory with a sprint win on the iconic Champs-Élysées over Jasper Philipsen and Mark Cavendish, who was denied a chance to set the record for the most career Tour stage wins, to conclude the 2021 Tour de France.

The win capped an incredibly fast final 10-kilometers that featured the most intense bunch sprint battle we are likely to see all season. The high-pace and chaotic racing separated Cavendish from his Deceuninck - QuickStep teammates and the veteran sprinter was forced to attempt to overtake a flying Van Aert, who had made his way onto Cavendish’s lead-out man, Michael Morkov, himself, in the final 200 meters. But once the big Belgian gets up to speed, there isn’t anyone in the world who can come around him, and Cavendish and Philipsen were relegated to minor placings.

General Classification winner Tadej Pogacar navigated the stage without incident and crossed the line to officially win his second-consecutive Tour de France victory at the extremely young age of 22. While it is tempting to predict he will be an unstoppable force for many years to come, 2nd place finisher Jonas Vingegaard, only 24 himself, is emerged during this Tour as one of the most talented grand tour racers in the world. The established veteran on the GC contenders, Richard Carapaz, came in 3rd place overall, and while his Ineos team won’t leave the race content, Carapaz himself has to feel good about this result since he was simply outclassed by 1st and 2nd place at nearly every critical point of the race.

Stage 21 Race Notes:

54.2km: After a slow roll in from the suburbs, UAE and Pogacar lead the peloton onto the Champs-Élysées and soak in the moment.

43km: But, as soon as they cross the finish line to start the circuit, the racing is one and attacks start to fly. A group of three gets away and pulls out a 30-second gap. This looks promising, but in reality, you’d likely need a group of 10-15 and to get close to a minute to survive the increase in pace in the peloton on the last few laps.

39km: Even with the group up the road, Cavendish sprints against Matthews at the intermediate sprint point, and for the first time this Tour, really goes all-out to beat Matthews. This is relevant since he said himself that he thought the others were lacking in the finishing sprints due to going all-out at the intermediate sprint points.

10.2km: Julian Alaphilippe and DQS are at the front pulling back the three-mean move for Cavendish. This seems slightly early to me, and they are riding incredibly hard to keep the race together for a sprint.

6.3km: Possibly sensing this, Alaphilippe drops off the front and down the paceline, and oddly Ineos takes over at the front with DSM right behind for Cees Bol, even though he hasn’t cracked a top-five in a sprint at this race and they would be better off using their strong riders to attack right here.

3.9km: DQS comes to the front, and at this point, they are in perfect position with Cavendish right on Morkov’s wheel. Notice EF has great numbers up here, but why? They can’t win the sprint and would be better off attacking right now.

2.6km: But just over a kilometer later, it has all fallen apart for DQS. Mike Teunissen and Wout van Aert have pulled ahead of them on the right side of the road, while EF and Cofidis are forming their own train on the left-hand side of the road. This is incredibly silly, since neither has a shot at winning the stage in a sprint, and should be attacking, but the train is impressive and is going faster than DQS, who is getting swamped and shuffled back.

2.2km: Just a few moments later, DQS has been completely swamped by EF and Cofidis, with Cavendish out of the frame. Wout has been able to somewhat salvage his position, which is key since it is very difficult to move up from here on out.

1.2km: DQS puts in a huge amount of work to recover from this and get Cavendish back into position two spots behind Van Aert, but his team is running out of guys much earlier than in previous sprint stages. And if we remember, in past sprints, Wout and Jasper Philipsen have had to try to come over the top of Cavendish and his DQS team in the final kilometer, but today, Cavendish finds himself in the opposite position.

900m: In the past, this right-hand turn was the 300m mark, and you had to be in the first 4-5 riders to win the sprint. But this year, they extended the finish line 500-600m meters. Cavendish comes around right before Wout, but has lost the wheel of his lead-out man Morkov, with Teunissen and Wout positioned there instead.

631m: A feature of the new finish is that it is downhill for the final 300m, which means the first to go will probably win. Jumbo knows this and just as Morkov pulls off, Teunissen jumps with Wout right on his wheel. Meanwhile, Cavendish is buried in the bunch and will have a tough time getting around at this point.

210m-Finish: Wout comes around his teammate Teunissen and powers to the line. These guys are absolutely flying and going over 40mphs, which makes it almost impossible to find the speed to come around, and he also makes sure to hug the barriers so Cavendish doesn’t have the space to come through. But Wout is so powerful that once he gets up to speed, nobody can come by. He powers away from Philipsen and Cavendish for an iconic stage win.

Stage Top Five:
Wout van Aert
2) Jasper Philipsen
3) Mark Cavendish
4) Luka Mezgec
5) Andre Greipel

Final GC Top Five:
Tadej Pogacar +0
Jonas Vingegaard +5’20
Richard Carapaz +7’03
Ben O’Connor +10’02
Wilco Kelderman +10’13

Ten Takeaways:

1) Wout van Aert gets a hugely impressive stage win just a day after winning the final time trial, and just 10 stages after winning one of the hardest mountain stages of the race.

  • This is truly extraordinary and he becomes the first rider since Bernard Hinault in 1979 to win a mountain, time trial, and sprint stage in the same Tour de France.

  • It makes me wonder what he can’t do and think that if he truly wanted, he could come back to the Tour as an overall contender.

  • Also, after being outshone by his rival Mathieu van der Poel all year and into the first week of the Tour, Van Aert has completely turned the tables on his counterpart.

  • After Van der Poel’s incredible opening week, it seemed impossible for Van Aert to top him, but after winning three completely different stages, he heads into the Tokyo Olympics as potentially the best cyclist in the world and the favorite to win both the road and TT gold medals.

  • He won’t have much time to celebrate this win since he had to head to the airport straight from the finish line to catch a flight to Japan (I hope they used my service, The Points Guru, to upgrade him to Business Class).

2) This stage is referred to as a sprinter’s world championship since it doesn’t get any bigger than winning on such an iconic boulevard on the final stage of the world’s biggest race. Wout has been winning the odd sprint stage here and there, but now that he has won this, his bunch sprinting chops can’t be questioned and he has proven that he can beat some of the best sprinters in the biggest moment.

  • His talents completely break any type of existing mold and it is becoming hard to put his achievements into context.

  • When we finally got a more open sprint, his superior raw power and positioning skills saw him emerge as the best sprinter in the race.

  • It isn’t clear where sprinting goes from here. If Wout van Aert can win bunch sprints while riding to a top-20 overall finish, I have to imagine the trend of cutting lead-out trains and bringing more versatile sprinters instead of the rigid, pure sprinters like Sam Bennett and Pascal Ackerman will continue.

  • But, I also wonder if this opens up an opportunity for a team like DSM, who got nothing from this race, to run back their same tactics but with Sam Bennett instead of Ces Bool. In theory, they could have cleaned up 5 or 6 stage wins with Bennett. This would be rebooting of the HTC-Colombia model of picking off wins in disciplines where other teams aren’t focusing.

3) Jumbo-Visma continues their run of incredible results despite being down to only five riders and will ultimately walk away from a crash-marred Tour with four stage wins and a second place overall. This is beyond impressive for a team who was really down and out by the first rest day.

  • It is incredible they were able to give Wout a better lead out with such a depleted squad compared to Cavendish and DQS.

  • In addition, they’ve found a new GC contender in Vingegaard who could be one of the only riders able to challenge Pogacar in the future.

  • Along with Roglic, they could emerge as the only team able to mount a serious challenge to Pogacar.

4) Cavendish and DQS lose their first bunch sprint of the race, but unfortunately, it happened to be on the race’s biggest sprint stage and when they were racing to make history.

  • I can’t help but feel like the pressure got to them and in retrospect, they maybe should have gone all-out to force a sprint on stage 19 when they could have run a cleaner sprint train.

  • Today’s stage proved to be just too difficult to truly control, and this created a situation where Cavendish had to go pedal-stroke-for-pedal-stroke with riders who are faster and more explosive than him.

  • For reference, Alaphilippe had to pull off with 3.4km remaining today when he was leading the team into the final kilometer.

5) Philipesen gets his 6th podium finish of this race and third second-place but will be incredibly disappointed to miss out on the win here. He was getting closer and closer to besting Cavendish as the race went on, and actually cracked the code here, but unfortunately, he happened to come up against one of the most talented riders in the history of the sport.

  • While they failed to get a win after the third stage, Philipsen’s Alpecin-Fenix team has to be thrilled with their performance at this race.

  • Despite not being a 1st-division team, they walk away with two stage wins, six days in Yellow and 8 stages with a podium finish.

  • With 15 teams, and nearly all of them having much larger budgets, walking away with essentially nothing, this is very impressive.

6) It is interesting how different the top ten in this stage were compared to the other bunch sprints, with many stronger, but ‘slower’ sprinters getting their first top-10s of the race.

  • 39-year-old Andre Greipel, the strongest of the strong sprinters, gets a hugely impressive 5th place on the final stage of his final career Tour de France.

7) I don’t totally understand what EF and Cofidis were doing with their leadout train inside the final 3km, but it potentially won the stage for Wout.

  • Their odds would have been much better attacking in that moment, but their acceleration strung the race out and forced DQS to burn crucial matches to get back into position.

8) DSM, who was the darling of the 2020 Tour with their attacking style and multiple stage winners (racing as Sunweb), seemed to change strategy this year and go all-in for Ces Bool. Unfortunately, he failed to crack a top-five and finished 21st in today’s sprint.

  • I am incredibly confused by this decision and don’t understand what is going on inside that team after they essentially forced Marc Hirschi out at the beginning of the year.

9) Ineos failed to get into breakaway and was even on the front, presumably for Cavendish, on the final lap. In my opinion, that they would think it is appropriate to use their $60 million per year budget to work for a former teammate instead of attempting to chase a win at a race where they have vastly underperformed shows just how out-of-touch with reality the team has allowed itself to become.

  • With team owner Jim Ratcliffe having his net worth decrease recently, I have to imagine he will start to look at actions like this and wonder why exactly he is shelling out so much cash for his riders not to win but try to help riders on other teams win.

10) This stage was awesome! In the past, the ceremonial final stage has bothered me, but this year, I found the sight of riders racing up and down an iconic boulevard thrilling and the level of racing on the final lap was absolutely out-of-this-world.

  • We could see that the intensity was dialed up significantly from bunch sprints earlier in the race and that the younger riders certainly felt a need to defend their honor after being swept in the four previous bunch sprints at this race.

I will be sending out a full Tour de France Breakdown with some bigger-picture takeaways tomorrow….

In the Beyond the Peloton Velogames Fantasy League, Nori’s ‘Lila Muscle’ team won in a thrilling photo-finish over David Fullagar and Jww GT II, who impressively finished 3rd despite not having Tadej Pogacar in his lineup.

Nori’s win comes complements of young stars Tadej Pogacar and Wout van Aert, and her belief in the veteran Michael Matthews, who failed to win a stage but racked up points by contesting nearly every intermediate sprint and netting six top-ten stage finishes.

Good work to all and thank you for playing. Now it is time to hit the lab and start tinkering with your teams for the Vuelta a Espana in August.

Final Top Ten