Pogacar wins Tour de France as Van Aert denies Cavendish’s attempt at record

Aged 22 Slovenian rider becomes youngest to win back-to-back Tours

Slovenian rider Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates celebrates on the podium with the overall leader’s yellow jersey after the 21st stage of the Tour de France. Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

Slovenian rider Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates celebrates on the podium with the overall leader’s yellow jersey after the 21st stage of the Tour de France. Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA

 

Wout Van Aert denied Mark Cavendish another piece of Tour de France history as the Belgian national champion won stage 21 on the Champs-Elysees on Paris on Sunday. Cavendish was seeking his fifth stage victory of this Tour, which would have moved him clear of Eddy Merckx as the winner of a record 35.

But it was not to be as the Manxman got squeezed out on the run to the line and Merckx’s compatriot took his third stage win of this Tour – completing the set with a sprint after his successes in the mountains and in Saturday’s time trial.

Cavendish had to check his sprint more than once as he struggled to find a gap before coming in third behind Van Aert and Jasper Philipsen. Tadej Pogacar (22) crossed the line safely to confirm his second consecutive overall title for UAE Team Emirates.

Wout Van Aert (left) of Team Jumbo Visma crosses the finish line to win the 21st stage of the Tour de France ahead of British rider Mark Cavendish of the Deceuninck QuickStep team. Photograph: EPA/Christophe Petit-Tesson epa09352349 Belgian rider Wout Van Aert (L) of Team Jumbo Visma crosses the finish line to win the 21st stage of the Tour de France 2021 over 108.4 km from Chatou to Paris, France, 18 July 2021. At right British rider Mark Cavendish of the Deceuninck Quick-Step team. EPA/CHRISTOPHE PETIT-TESSON
Wout Van Aert (left) of Team Jumbo-Visma crosses the finish line to win the 21st stage of the Tour de France, ahead of British rider Mark Cavendish of the Deceuninck-QuickStep team. Photograph: EPA/Christophe Petit-Tesson/EPA

The fairy-tale ending to this Tour was not to be, but this will still go down as a remarkable performance from Cavendish. After several seasons disrupted by injury and illness, the 36-year-old did not expect to be competing in the Tour but stepped in after an injury to team-mate Sam Bennett and looked back to his best as he took his first stage wins since 2016. As history beckoned, Van Aert had joked that he would do his best to defend Merckx’s record for Belgium, and though he could not stop Cavendish equalling it, the Jumbo-Visma rider was there to make sure it was not broken on the Champs-Elysees.

The stage win added to the remarkable salvage job Jumbo-Visma have done in this Tour after losing leader Primoz Roglic in the opening week – having now won four stages and taken second overall through Jonas Vingegaard, all despite only finishing with four riders.

“This Tour has been amazing,” said Van Aert, the first man since Bernard Hinault in 1979 to win a mountain stage, sprint and time trial at the same Tour. “It’s been such a roller coaster and to finish off with a win like this is beyond my expectations.

“I guess I gave myself a problem because I have to catch a flight tonight [to the Olympics] and all these interviews will take a while, I’ll have to see if I can get there but I’m definitely not sorry that I went for it today.

“To win three stages like this is priceless, so thanks to my small team.”

Finish line

This year the famous finish line on the Champs-Elysees had been moved 350m further up the boulevard, closer to the Arc de Triomphe. The longer run-in from the final bend should have suited the strong lead-out of Cavendish’s Deceuninck-QuickStep squad, but they got themselves out of position in the final 2m, leaving Cavendish to improvise. There was a brief moment when space opened up to Van Aert’s right, but Philipsen swept in to leave Cavendish banging his handlebars as he rolled in third. However, the Manxman had done enough to secure the points classification – a decade after he previously took the green jersey in 2011.

Tadej Pogacar became the youngest rider to win back-to-back Tour de France titles on Sunday after some vintage racing drew comparisons with cycling’s greatest. The 22-year-old Slovenian, who won the Tour on his debut last year, hammered his rivals in the Alps with a long-range attack on stage eight, reminiscent of the event in the 1980s, and stayed in control for the rest of the race. He beat Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard by a massive five minutes 20 seconds, as Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz took third place, 7:03 off the pace, as his Ineos Grenadiers team failed to spark once again after last year’s failure.

Pogacar finished Sunday’s 21st and final stage safe in the bunch, raising his arms as he crossed the line.

‘The new Cannibal’

“I see him as the new Cannibal,” said five-time Tour champion Eddy Merckx, who earned that nickname due to his insatiable appetite for victory and won his first Tour in 1969 at the age of 23.

“He is extremely strong. I see him winning several editions of the Tour in the years to come. If nothing happens to him, he can certainly win the Tour de France more than five times.”

While Pogacar says he doesn’t like comparisons, the UAE Emirates rider threw caution to the wind when he attacked in the Col de Romme on the eighth stage, in a move similar to those of Merckx or fellow five-time Tour winner Bernard Hinault.

Pogacar won two mountain stages in the Pyrenees and an individual time trial - a testament to his all-round qualities – with his only sign of weakness coming in week two on Mont Ventoux. He finishes the Tour with the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider in the race and with the polka-dot jersey for the mountains classification, just like last year.

The green jersey went to Cavendish after he took his tally of career stage wins to a record-equalling 34, with four victories in this year’s race, although he was denied the 35th by Van Aert on Sunday. It marked a spectacular comeback for the Manxman, who was returning to the Tour for the first time since 2018 after years of poor results and mental health problems. Cavendish was perfectly set up in the sprints by his Deceuninck-Quick Step team mates as the Belgian outfit claimed five wins in this year’s edition.

After losing the first mass sprint of the race, Cavendish was untouchable, avoiding the multiple crashes that marred this year’s Tour and sent his potential main rival, Caleb Ewan, home after the third stage. Those crashes also ended the hopes of last year’s runner-up, Primoz Roglic, who abandoned before the eighth stage, while the chances of Ineos Greanadiers’ co-leaders, Geraint Thomas and Tao Geoghegan Hart, were also ruined when they hit the deck early in the race.

The last days were marked by a potential doping scandal as a French prosecutor in Marseille opened an investigation into the Bahrain Victorious team after the outfit’s accommodation and vehicles were searched by police on Wednesday. Bahrain Victorious said they were co-operating with the investigation. They won three stages this year with Belgian Dylan Teuns’ solo raid in the mountains, while Slovenian Matej Mohoric took two victories from the breakaway.

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