Tour de France 2021 – Stage 21 preview

By David Hunter

Chatou > Paris 107.5km

A record breaking day?

All eyes are on Mark Cavendish, the pressure in the final 5km will be insane. Nobody would have given him a chance of breaking the record at the end of last season, nobody. Cavendish was a shadow of his former self, going in breakaways was just about all he could do. We then had the sad sight of him breaking down in interviews, it wasn’t how a champion of the sport should end his career.

His decline didn’t just happen overnight. Back in 2016, his first year with Dimension Data, Cav won four Tour stages in a dominant display of sprinting, but 2017 was a poor year. That year we saw the rise of Kittel, with Cavendish crashing out of the Tour after stage 4, thanks to an elbow from Peter Sagan. In the whole of 2017 Cav won just one race, stage 1 of the Abu Dhabi Tour. This was his worst season since turning professional. His move to Dimension Data was quickly turning into a nightmare.

In 2018 he again won just one race, stage 3 of the Dubai Tour. This season we saw a different side to Cavendish. In the closing stages of races he was dogged by “issues”. Quite often he would get a puncture near the end of the stage, or lose position in the run in, or suffer some other kind of bad luck. Many suspected that these issues were in his head, it looked like he’d lost the edge required to fight for wins.

2019 was a disaster, his best result was 3rd in a stage of the Tour of Turkey, the only time he made the podium in the whole season. By this point Dimension Data had lost faith in him, he was on the lookout for a new team. Most thought he was very lucky to remain in the World Tour with Bahrain – McLaren taking him on for 2020. The move was a disaster, Cavendish failed to finish in the top 10 of any race in the whole season and was now being moved into a domestique role. At the end of the year it looked like we’d seen the last of Cavendish, his interview after Gent-Wevelgem was heart-breaking. This wasn’t how the best ever sprinter should end his career, but it looked like the end.

Then at the end of the year rumours started to circulate about his return to Deceuninck – Quick Step. It was a nice move by Lefevere, especially as his salary would likely be covered by a personal sponsor. Cav would come back to the team, he would help some of the younger guys and maybe get a chance to win one last race before ending his career. That’s how most of us thought it would go, how wrong were we? His first race back as Almeria, once again Cavendish suffered a mechanical at the wrong time, I did start to wonder if his old issues were still there. Then he finished 2nd in GP Monseré, but he was well beaten by Tim Merlier. Another 2nd place followed in Coppi e Bartali, where he was beaten by Mareczko, momentum was starting to build.

3rd place in Scheldeprijs was okay, but Philipsen beat both he and Bennett that day. Then came the Tour of Turkey. Not only did he win stage 2, he went on to win another three stages of the race in a dominant display of sprinting. It was brilliant to see him win, the outpouring of emotion from the cycling community was overwhelming, most seemed to forget that Cavendish wasn’t actually a nice guy. After that high came a low, he was awful in Andalucía, they basically forget about the time limit for him, but he still had to abandon during stage 3. This was just a month before the Tour, a race he wasn’t even meant to do and no wonder.

The Belgium Tour was a big moment in his season, Cavendish won the final stage, where he beat Ewan and Merlier. This was the first time he had beaten the fastest sprinters, he was back. Then came the stories about Sam Bennett suffering from injury and potentially not racing the Tour de France, but it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that Cavendish would go as his replacement. Leferve made the call, Bennett was out and Cav was in, but expectations were still fairly low, no one was talking about the Merckx record, no one.

Cavendish didn’t get to sprint in stage 3, he was one of the many men delayed by the crashes. Stage 4 was his first opportunity to test the legs. By this point Caleb Ewan had already gone home, he was clearly the fastest rider at the race. Not only that but Alpecin-Fenix made the call that they would ride for Philipsen not Merlier. Remember that Philipsen couldn’t get close to Cavendish in Turkey. You could say the stars aligned for Cav, but his win was still impressive.

Three more wins have followed, taking him level with Merckx. Some will say that anyone could win with his sprint train, this is incorrect. He does have the best train, but you still need the legs to finish it off. Some will say it’s the weakest sprint field for a very long time, but you can only beat who’s in front of you. The history books don’t say who you’ve beaten.

Then came the footage of Cavendish shouting and screaming at a team worker. It was a reminder to those who had forgotten about his attitude. Some will tell you that winners often behave like this, almost like that’s an excuse. I don’t buy it. To behave in such a pathetic way is inexcusable, it doesn’t matter how many cuddles you give out after you win.

So where does this leave us? We roll into Paris and Cavendish has an incredible opportunity to win the stage and break the record. His transformation in the past year has been nothing short of incredible, a huge amount of praise must go to him and his team. We are about to watch history being made.

Weather

Nice and sunny.

Finale

It’s all about controlling the final 3km. Ideally you want to be at the head of the bunch for the tunnel. Once the riders emerge there is just 1.5km to go. Due to the pace of the bunch it’s very hard to move up the bunch at this point, you need to be near the front. The final turn now comes with 700 to, the finish has been moved further up the Champs-Élysées. It is no longer possible to launch your sprint once the corner has finished, I wonder if we’ll see anyone forget this!

Contenders

Mark Cavendish – the fastest sprinter in the race and the best sprint train. He’ll have the best position for the final kilometre and will launch his sprint from the front. In the last three weeks no one has been able to come past him. Due to the pressure on his shoulders he’ll be nervous, winning this stage won’t be easy.

Wout Van Aert – arguably he’s as fast as Cavendish, but not after going so deep in the mountain stages. He’ll have Teunissen to guide him in the closing stages, he’ll look to place him on Cav’s wheel. Can he come round him? Maybe Cavendish will make a mistake and launch too soon.

Cees Bol – it’s not been a great race for the Dutch sprinter. He started the race short of fitness due to a recent illness, but he’s not really improved throughout the race. He’s soldiered on during the mountains with his eye on this stage. His sprint train is now depleted, but he does still have Eekhoff, Nieuwenhuis and Pedersen to guide him in the closing kilometres. They will hang back until the final 3km and then rush to the front. If they are all on a good day they have a chance of upsetting DQT, but we’ll have to see what the legs are like after a tough race. I would love to see Bol launch his sprint from the front, he has an incredible amount of power.

Mads Pedersen – 2nd here last year, but he’ll struggle to repeat that result. He’s another who started the race short of a little form, not ideal for the Tour de France. Theuns and Stuyven will get him into a good position, we’ll have to see if he can produce the power required to win the stage.

Jasper Philipsen – two 2nd places and three 3rd places is a brilliant return for the Belgian, I don’t think he’s been given enough credit for this. It would be great to see him win, but does he really believe he can beat Cavendish?

Prediction Time

The tension in the closing stages will be unbearable. The final 3km should see a big fight to control the head of the peloton, it’s not nailed on that Quick Step lead the way. Both DSM and Trek-Segafredo will be in the mix, and the change to the finishing line could well mess with the heads of the fast men. The winner of this stage is nearly always the sprinter who has been the best throughout the race. I’ll take a win for Mark Cavendish.

This brings another Tour de France to an end. In terms of my previews it’s been another record breaking race. Hopefully they’ve helped you to enjoy the race a little more.

 

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David Hunter

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11 thoughts on “Tour de France 2021 – Stage 21 preview

  1. I have a soft spot for Greipel (much nicer character than Cav), although he never was in front in this year’s tour – but he knows this Paris finish as well as Cav, did not suffer much on the mountain stages and and could well get come near to a podium spot here.

  2. “Hopefully they’ve helped you to enjoy the race a little more.”
    That’s an understatement! Thanks David!

  3. Thanks once again for all the previews, almost always good predictions, you just missed a bit of luck, and all the analysis were great to read, especially this year were ASO on the TdF site didn’t even cared to give us the mountaintops profiles.
    Can’t wait for the Olympic games roadmap !

  4. Cavendish crashing out of the Tour after stage 4, thanks to an elbow?

    David Hunter you are stupid prick.

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