First of all I would like to apologize to you, my Tour de France family, and to the children who benefit from your generous donations, for not running the TdF tipping again this year. It has been another tough year for everyone around the world, with COVID. But it has been a particularly tough year for the C.C.Coglioni family as we lost my great friend, and fellow Coglioni founder, Bif, to a tragic cycling accident. To be honest cycling has not exactly been at the forefront of my mind recently, but with some subtle badgering from members of the Coglioni, and what is a fascinating Tour de France, I thought I would metaphorically get back on the bike, and give my thoughts on this years Tour through a rest day recap. No donations required, but I promise, the tipping will be back next year!

What a year’s it’s been in the cycling world. It seems like only 9 months ago that Pogačar was winning the tour, oh wait, that was only 9 moths ago. With COVID, the 2020 season was crammed into such a short time-frame, maybe that is why this tour seems like the biggest rollarcoaster at Dreamworld, with only one constant at the end of the first week, Tadej Pogačar.

Please excuse typos and spelling…

Stage 1: Brest – Landerneau

Normally this time of year I would be preparing for my bi-annual jaunt across the world for a conference. But the best part of that trip is stopping off in Brittany to visit work colleagues/friends, which is the only thing I miss about my world travel stopping. The tour was to spend 4 days in Brittany, the hotbed of French cycling. The last tour winner, Bernard Hinault, my idol growing up, is from just outside Brest, so it was fitting the tour should start from there. For those people in the group who know Brittany you will know how narrow the roads are generally, I guess the local councils are saving money on tarmac. I am sure the cyclists know how narrow they are as well, and with all the jerseys up for grabs in the first few days of the tour, maybe Brittany is not the best place to start a bike race! It was always going to be competitive, and a bit tricky, but who could prepare us for the carnage that happened on the first stage. 45km to go, and some Numpty, decides to get her mug on TV and hold out a sign, a sign that stretched a meter into a road that seems like only 4 meters wide. Tony Martin was probably going 50kph at the time. In a big group you are constantly focusing on different things, the wheels in front, proximity of other riders. He had probably focused ahead a second before that dopey mare stuck her sign out. It was probably a colour that blended into the surrounds, plus, you are traveling at 50kph. It was not his fault. F*cking idiots wanting to see themselves on TV…. Anyway, they found her, ASO decided not to sue her, but she may still get sued by Marc Soler, who, although he finished the stage, he did not start the next day, somehow riding to the finish with 2 broken arms and not being able to stand. His season is over, and so is hers… There was another pile up with a few km to go caused by a touch of wheels in the Peloton, again a massive number of riders hitting the deck. Froome looked the worst, and we all held our breath after his accident 2 years ago. Somehow he finished, and he is still in the Tour at the rest day. After the carnage we got back to the racing and it was once again Alaphilippe who laid down a perfect uphill sprint to take the Tours first yellow jersey. For us Aussies, it was encouraging to see Matthews take 2nd on the stage.

Stage 2: Perros-Gueirec – Mûr de Bretagne

Another day not for the sprinters, with another tough uphill finish. There was no doubt that Alaphilippe would either win again, or at worst hold onto yellow. No crashes of note thankfully, but a lot of finger pointing, was it the riders fault or was it the organizers fault. The finish would be 2 laps up the Mûr de Bretagne, the “Wall of Brittany” and what unfolded was both unbelievable but not unexpected when you mention the name Mattieu van der Poel. His father is Adrie van der Poel, a pretty handy rider, winning six classics (Tour of Flanders twice), two stages of the Tour de France and the World Cyclo-Cross Championships in 1996. Mattieu’s grand-father wasn’t a bad rider either, a bloke called Raymond Poulidor, affectionately known as Pou-Pou. However, he was known as “The Eternal Second”, because he never won the Tour de France despite finishing in second place three times, and in third place five times Despite his consistency, he never once wore the yellow jersey as leader of the general classification in 14 Tours. So today’s stage was going to be special. Van der Poel started the stage 18 seconds behind Alaphilippe, so there was no chance he could put that amount of time into the Frenchman on the final climb, so he came up with an audacious plan. Attack on the first ascent and get the bonus seconds, no one could follow, but they caught him on the descent, part of the plan, even though they probably thought he was going for a long attack. Then on the 2nd ascent, attack again. He needed both the bonus seconds for the stage win, and enough of a gap to Alaphilippe to take the Yellow jersey, a plan which he executed to perfection. Crossing the line, pointing to the sky brought a tear to my eye, not the first one this tour, as Pou-Pou died in 2019. He won a yellow jersey for his grand-father, and once he crossed the line and realized his plan had worked he himself was in tears, and it was the same in the post race interview “I have no words. Really I don’t know what to say,”… Chapeau Mattieu and Chapeau Pou-Pou!

Stage 3: Lorient – Pontivy

Day 3 in Brittany and an unwelcome return to the crashes close to the finish. Last years 2nd place getter, Roglič, hooked handlebars with Colbrelli and hit the deck hard, losing a load of bark. Then 4km later another crash held up Pogačar. May pre tour favorites had hit the deck and were nursing sore bones or lack of skin, the latter affecting sleep and recovery. Pogačar, whilst held up, I don’t believe he has performed a close ground inspection yet, maybe why he is in yellow. But the last crash was the worst, certainly for Aussie fans and the Peter Sagan fan club. Going into the final 250m of the sprint Caleb Ewan went for the same piece of road as Tim Melier and overlapped the wheel. Totally Ewan’s fault, which he acknowledged, but it was a violent crash that brought the out-of-form Sagan down as well. Sagan had a softer landing using Ewan as a cushion. The door was however wide open for Merlier to take his first TdF win. I think he would have been hard to beat anyway, as he is a quality sprinter, but we all know Ewan would have come over the top of him. But a great day for the wild card team of Alpecin Fenix, with their 2nd stage win in a row. Even though it was not his fault this time, it is good to see Sagan is not fast enough to be as much of a crash menace that he normally is. Well done for Caleb sacrificing himself, but Sagan is too smart, and used Caleb as a landing cushion! Read this – https://cyclingtips.com/2021/06/the-secret-pro-tour-de-france-sagan/

Stage 4: Redon – Fougères

I fell asleep with 10km to go, not for the first time this year. Have not got my Tour clock working. England were playing Germany in the Euros that night as well. I woke up thinking I had read that Germany beat England again, something we have had to get used to post 1966. But then on my phone I saw an notification, England 2 – Germany 0, your bewdy!! I was at the 1996 Euros semi-final where England lost on penalties, and the current coach Gareth Southgate missed one of them. Little did I know as I turn the TV on for the morning highlights, that my day was about to get better. There was a long breakaway with Brent Van Moer trying to win for Caleb. It looked like the sprinters teams had got their maths wrong and he would hold out for a famous victory. But with 300m to go they were almost upon him. The last few hundred meters and Cavendish was still near the front. Don’t be ridiculous, the old fox can’t win, or can he? With each meter my bum came a bit more off the couch, and with 100m to go I was shouting at the TV. Not sure what the neighbors were thinking, but at least it wasn’t 11:30pm if I had stayed awake. Give the Mank Missile a sniff, a gap, and he will take it and sure enough, he squeezed passed Van Moer and launched for the line taking an unbelievable victory, his 31st in the TdF, now only 3 behind Eddy Merckx. Cav has been in the wilderness these last 3 years, with 2 bouts of Epstein Barr syndrome, and depression. The latter no doubt caused by the former. He was not brought to the Tour by Dimension Data due to a fall out with the principle there, and his time last year at Bahrain Merida was not worth mentioning. His career was over until Patrick Lefevere gave gim a lifeline. Lefevere is a cheapskate and hates paying top doller for any cyclist, it’s why many good cyclists, who are successful at Quickstep normally move on to chase the $$. So he paid Kmart prices for Cav, probably because, to be honest, that is all he was worth. Even then Cav was not due to ride the Tour, but an injury, and a bit of a beef between Lefevere and Bennett opened the door. Cav repaid his faith, and once again we say a ride cross the line and collapse in tears. He could not even speak in the post stage interview. I cried, and I am proud to say that…

Stage 5: Changé – Laval Espace Mayenne (ITT)

This will be short. This year we see the return of double TTs to the race, like the 90s, although not as long as the old days of Indurain smashing everyone in the TTs and then hanging on in the mountains. The question was could van der Poel hang on to yellow. In the end he did, but since the crassh marred opening stages I have said it was now Pogačar’s race to lose. So he started off not losing it by winning the TT. All the other guys are all snot and drool as they finish, but Pogačar looks as cool as a cucumber. He was so eager to get going he jumped out of the start gate with 1 second to go. Yeah, even if it they penalized him, he still won by 19 seconds. Great TT from VDP coming in 5th and only losing 31 seconds.

Stage 6: Tours – Chàteauroux

Another day, another chance for the sprinters, only the 2nd sprint stage. But the unbelievable was about to happen again, Cav was about to take TdF win number 32. His team were immense, with a huge lead out from world champion, Alaphilippe to get him near the front, and then Michael Mørkøv, his lead out man took over. But on the other side of the road, the yellow jersey of van der Poel was dragging his sprinters to the line and they launched and it all came together in a spearhead in the middle of the road. The Alpecin guys were in a better position than Mørkøv so Cav jumped on their wheel. Merlier finished his lead out and Philipsen and Cav went around either side of him. But Cav had another sniff of the line and Philipsen could not stay with him. I will be honest, I thought the tour would be over for Cav now. Yeah, he would survive the next hilly day, but without any serious racing in his legs he was unlikely to make it through the 2 big days in the alpes. Even if he can, I just hope he can get over the double ascent of the Ventoux. I really can’t see anyone except Merlier beating him at the moment. What were Alpacin thinking going with Philipsen? Maybe spreading the wins around, which is actually an admirable idea. Massive lead out bt VDP, brilliant. But fatigue will affect everyone and who knows what that will bring by next week. I think he may win one more and be agonisingly close at #33, that is the way the universe kicks you in the butt. He missed out on 5+ years worth of chances. Crashing in stage 1 in Harrogate cos he wanted yellow too much, when he did not have the legs. He was at fault, no doubt about it. Then the year he did not have great form, and Sagan ran him into the barrier. His last participation where the climbing was mad, plus he probably had Epsteins at that point and got eliminated. To his credit, he never climbed off, he rode to the finish. I don’t care what anyone says, he has more respect for the Tour than anyone. Then the last 3 years in the wilderness through illness and Quebeka not bringing him to the Tour (nobs). He could have hit #40 I reckon.

Stage 7: Vierzon – La Creusot

What a mad stage on Friday. I was going to bed early, but got caught up in drama. The yellow jersey of VDP, green of Cav and some other notable riders formed a breakaway that took over 6 minutes on the peloton. Pogačar’s team had to do the lions share of the chasing, as he is still favorite, but the quality of the break ensured they would not see them again. In the end, the other forgotten Slovenian, Matej Mohorič, took the stage win with a solo break from the group. Another stage, another rider crying at the finish line, am loving the emotion in this tour. VDP easily held onto yellow for one more day, but with the big mountains to come, for how long? This is one crazy-assed tour. In the end no damage done for the Pog. Wasn’t sure what they were doing Jumbo, Ineos were a bit smarter, let the UAE guys burn themselves out for tomorrow. But hey, Pogačar didn’t need a team last year, why would he need one this year! Long time coming for Mohoric. he kinda got overtaken by the other 2 boys, Pogačar and Roglic, in the last couple of years, but that is a stage in every grand tour for him now. Maybe Roglic told them to. Maybe he is just really banged up after that crash, I guess we don’t know yet. Great ride from Cav to get in the break. But I doubt he can make it to Paris which saddens me a lot. I hate knowing this sport like I do. Please prove me wrong Cav. You can guarantee he won’t give it up and just roll over, he will fight to the end.

Stage 8: Oyonnax – Le Grand Bornard

First day in the high mountains and time to see who has any tickets left in Grande Boucle. Unfortunately, the only one who does is Pogačar. A break was left to go, but with about 30km to The Pog launched. Carapaz gave some stout defense for a couple of minutes but then his legs said no, and as much as he told them to shut up, they were not listening. The Pog then proceeded to put 3 minutes into his main rivals, although I am not really sure who they are right now. Dylan Teuns got away from the breakaway and soloed across the line, as we saw another rider in tears, dedicating the win to his grand-father, who has died just before the Tour started. The Pog took yellow, and this Tour was starting to look boring. In other news Cav held on for another day…

Stage 9: Cluses – Tignes

Did someone say boring? What was that about, yep another break, we are all used to that. But who is the Fremantle boy from WA, Ben O’Conner. OK, he did win a stage in the Giro last year, and looked pretty good in this years Dauphine, and he was sitting in 14th place at 08:13 behind the Pog. But somehow the break got near 8:30 on the yellow jersey group, and Ben was in virtual yellow. He was looking strong but had a pair of Colombians for company who tried to work him over on the steeper 2nd last climb. But he stuck to his rhythm and caught them before the final climb before dropping them and soloing to a famous and first TdF victory. He may not have got yellow of Pogačar, a feat no one is likely to do, but he moved up to 2nd place overall. I am eager to see how he handles the Ventoux on Wednesday, as that may tell if he can hang on to a podium in Paris. Mission accomplished by Quintana, 2 days in a row in the break, polka dot jersey. 2 rest days for him, then sit on the wheels on Wednesday and steal more points. I was afraid to look regarding Cav, but in other news, he hung on again to stay with in the time limit. He rode in with 3 team mates, I wonder how many hands were on his bum on the steep bits. Just read that Demare and Coquard were outside the time limit, and Merlier did not start! 3 sprinters gone, and the old, under-raced Cavendish battles on! Maybe he can take #33…