Tour of Britain 2021
Many familiar names from the Grand Tours, including André Greipel, Richie Porte, Mark Cavendish and Tony Martin, were riding in the 17th Tour of Britain, which started at Penzance in Cornwall and ended in Aberdeen.
Stages 1 and 2
But it was two other notable riders, Wout Van Aert, one of the heroes of this year’s Tour de France, and the hardworking Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe who made the headlines in the early stages of the Tour. Wout won the first stage, but was ousted on day 2 by the American Robin Carpenter with a gutsy solo turn.
On day 3 Team Ineos Grenadiers (formerly Sky) scored a notable and welcome victory in the Team Time Trial, putting Briton Ethan Hayter in the overall lead, with teammate Rohan Dennis second.
The fourth stage saw a rousing finish between Van Aert and Alaphilippe which put the former back in the lead, by 2 seconds from Hayter, with Alaphilippe third at 8 seconds. With the overall lead changing daily and only small time gaps, the second half of the Tour promised much…..
Stage 5 of the yo-yo Tour of Britain saw Briton Ethan Hayter regain ownership of the leader’s blue jersey just 24 hours after losing it. A bunch sprint finish was gathering momentum when Owain Doull, an Ineos Grenadiers rider (incidentally, leaving the team at the end of the year) crashed on the final bend and split the peloton. Hayter only just avoided the melée caused by his teammate, but Wout Van Aert was among those whose run was checked. Mark Cavendish also met with interference but managed to finish 5th in the same time as the winner. At the end of the day Hayter had an 8-second lead over Van Aert, with Alaphilippe 19 seconds back. This has been a good year for Hayter, whose achievements include silver in the Tokyo madison and victory in the Tour of Norway.
In Stage 6 a lively breakaway included Mark Cavendish, thus giving spectators a chance to see the Manxman clearly in the group of seven. The breakaway’s valiant efforts came to an end with 14 kilometres to go, and it was the three favourites – Van Aert, Hayter and Alaphilippe, who dominated the finish. Van Aert took the stage for his third victory of the Tour.
Into Scotland, which for the first time hosted two whole stages of the Tour. Stage 7 took the field from the Borders town of Hawick to Edinburgh, with a downhill finish in Holyrood Park. With no threat to the GC leaders, the breakaway had the day to itself, with a group of six dominating. With 8 kilometres to go, three riders broke clear, the Belgian Yves Lampaert, the American Matteo Jorgensen and the Briton Matt Gibson (from an all-British team). A game of cat and mouse ensued, from which a jubilant Lampaert emerged victorious. With the main activity centered round the breakaway, there was no change at the top. Going into the final stage were three top riders from three top teams: Ethan Hayter (Ineos Grenadiers), Wout Van Aert at 4 seconds (Jumbo-Visma) and Julian Alaphilippe, probably out of it at 21 seconds (Deceuninck-Quickstep).
The eighth and final stage of the 2021 Tour, on Sunday September 12, took the field from Stonehaven to Aberdeen, making it the most northerly race in the history of the Tour. A breakaway was almost inevitable, and a sprint finish very likely, with bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds for the first three home. This made the possibilities quite few: if Ethan Hayter won the stage or was second, he was the winner of the Tour. If Wout Van Aert won and Ethan was out if the first three, then Wout would win the Tour. But before either of these outcomes the breakaway had to be caught. For much of the stage the hard-ridden peloton made very little ground on the breakaway; far from devouring the gap it was just nibbling away. But with 4 kilometres to go the catch happened, signalling a helter-skelter dash to the line by the contenders and their teams. Only at the very last did Wout Van Aert produce a supercharged thrust that took him first over the line. Ethan ran out of puff and was unplaced, so Wout Van Aert become a very worthy winner of a high-quality Tour.
Bring on May 2022 and the Giro!