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.
Stage 9. Aigle to Châtel Les Portes du Soleil
The Breakaway has its Day
The question for the peloton on this stage, which included the first Alpine climb, was how to take time out of the leader Tadej Pogacar. The breakaways took time to develop but eventually two groups became one and an impressive 21 riders established a clear lead, with UAE Emirates and Ineos Grenadiers animating the peloton. The real excitement of the stage began with 62 kilometres to go, on the descent after the first major climb. The Luxembourg rider Bob Jungels broke free from the group and was soon riding hard in splendid isolation. The pace and the climbs were gradually whittling down the breakaway and stragglers were dropping off the peloton. Even Wout van Aert found the going too tough and was soon in trouble. This situation did not suit one rider, the popular and vastly experienced Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, who dashed away from the breakaway in pursuit of Jungels. This was a bold move move from Pinot, who the day before had suffered double misfortune. He was recovering lost time from a fall when he was struck by a food bag wielded from the roadside by a seigneur (helper) reaching across to service a rider from another team. But here he was in the thick of battle once again. The ensuing excitement and tension made this a very special stage.
Would Thibaud catch Bob? Would the surviving breakaway duo Carlos Verona and Jonathan Castroviejo catch Thibaud? And would the peloton make up more than two minutes and catch everyone? Bob Jungels held on for an emotional win and Verona and Castroviejo overtook an exhausted Thibaut Pinot near the finish. The peloton should have been able to take it easy, but at the death its leader Tadej Pogacar and rival Jonas Vingegaard closed to within a few seconds of Pinot.
Pogacar stays on top, Vingegaard second, and Ineos Grenadiers are still there with three British riders in the first seven. But the joint team leader Dani Martinez had a bad day and dropped out of contention; if he comes back refreshed he could still be a big asset to the team.
Châtel was visited by the Tour in 1975, when Lucien van Impe won a time trial from Ole Ritter and someone called Eddy Merckx.
Happy birthday Florian Sénéchal of QST, 29 today.
Bring on May 2022 and the Giro!