The 2021 Tour de France arrived in Paris on Sunday July 18th, with last year’s winner 22-year-old Tadej Pogačar once again winning the maillot jaune. The young Slovenian dominated the general classification battle, successfully navigating a brutal and attritional first week where many of his closest rivals succumbed to injuries sustained in the crashes of the opening stages.
Having gained valuable time on his competitors on the way to winning the stage five time trial, Pogačar cemented his lead with a devastating attack on the Col de Romme, putting minutes into fellow GC contenders in the miserable and wet conditions of stage eight to Le Grand-Bornand. The back-to-back Tour de France champion picked up an additional two stage victories the following week and extended his winning margin to 5 minutes 20 seconds over second place Jonas Vingegaard, a 24-year-old Dane who was riding just his second ever Grand Tour.
Former Giro d’Italia winner Richard Carapaz became the first Ecuadorian to podium at the world’s biggest bike race when he finished third overall. Such was the 22-year-old Slovenian’s dominance that the Team Ineos ended up seven minutes back on him by Paris. The green points jersey was won emphatically won by a resurgent Mark Cavendish as he picked up four stages to equal Eddy Merckx’s elusive record of 34 stage victories at the Tour de France.
The young rider’s white jersey and the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey were also won by Tadej Pogačar, with the latter spending a day on the shoulders of Canadian Michael Woods.
A day in the KOM jersey wasn’t Canada’s only notable showing at the Tour. Woods’ teammate, Montreal-born Guillaume Boivin, played an integral part in the Israel Start-Up Nation lead-out train, helping sprinter André Greipel to a handful of top ten finishes. Astana PremierTech and Quebec’s Hugo Houle spent the three weeks shepherding his team leader Alexey Lutsenko to an admirable seventh in the overall classification.
Formerly an accomplished middle-distance runner, 34-year-old Woods impressed on several stages, taking third in the first mountain stage after leading on the road and subsequently being caught and distanced by the eventual winner at the top of the final climb. Michael Woods, or ‘Rusty’ as he is affectionately known, was dogged by bad luck during stage 14 but still managed to bag fifth place on the day. Having crashed on a slippery descent while in the breakaway, he missed the winning move when Dutchman Bauke Mollema attacked as Woods chased back on to the break. Nonetheless, Woods’ aggressive racing and climbing ability over the 183km bumpy route saw him take the lead in the King of the Mountains competition, for which he wore the iconic polka dot jersey for the following stage.
The Ontario-born rider left the race after stage 18 to focus on his major goal for the season – the Olympic Games road race, while both his compatriots Houle and Boivin made it to the Champs-Élysées for the iconic finale.
That’s it for our Tour de France review, but you can read more about the Canadian contingent at this year’s Tour in our pre-Tour spotlight.
The Tour de France started a week earlier than usual this year to allow riders to travel to the rescheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympics. After seeing the course for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Men’s Road Race, Michael Woods has big ambitions for a fine result. Finishing in the top ten five years in a row at the monument classic Liège-Bastogne-Liège, including a second place in the 2018 edition and most recently, a fifth place, Woods is well-accustomed to epic, hilly one-day races. In 2021, he animated the 259km race, attacking multiple times on the short, punchy climbs throughout the final 30km. With his podium place in the 2018 World Road Race Championships that featured 4,600 metres of climbing, ‘Rusty’ has shown his prowess in mountainous championship races. The parcours of the Olympic Road Race – which includes Mount Fuji – should suit him perfectly and in fact on inspection the profile does lightly mirror the stage of this year’s Tour de France in which he came fifth. Fellow countrymen Hugo Houle and Guillaume Boivin, fresh from La Grande Boucle, will ride in support of Woods’ medal hopes.
In the women’s road race, a three-strong Canadian contingent will tackle a 137km route that – controversially – skips Mount Fuji altogether. Although deprived of a truly spectacular ascent, the course still contains over 2,600 metres of elevation. SD Worx’s Karol-Ann Canuel, Liv Racing’s Alison Jackson, and DSM’s Leah Kirchmann look to make their mark on the race as they represent the Maple Leaf. Canuel’s sixth place in the similarly undulating 2018 World Road Race Championships should stand her in good stead for the hilly sections of the race, while Jackson and Kirchmann, both fast finishers, will be hoping for a sprint from a reduced group.
If there is one downside to the Olympics this time out, it is the unfavourable hours that events will be taking place.
The men’s Olympic road race is on Saturday July 24th at 10pm Eastern. The women’s race is on Sunday July 25th, starting at midnight. Better brew some coffee folks!