The voracious champion

Van Aert wins the Paris sprint, Cavendish remains tied at 34 victories with Merckx, and Pogacar adds his second Tour with a devastating performance.


The Tour de France is like a good novel or an intriguing series, it is built chapter by chapter, episode by episode, which can be read or seen separately, because each one tells a story, but the final resolution is not understood without the sum of all of them. Normally Paris is an epilogue, a summary with a moral, but this story from 2021 also wanted to leave some suspense for the end, for that sprint where Mark Cavendish had the opportunity to break with Eddy Merckx the record of 34 stage victories that both share in today

There was no record on the Champs Elysees. Suspense resolved. The historic duel remains a draw, sealed with a hug between the two at the goal. A Belgian, Wout van Aert, defended the honor of his compatriot with a masterful victory, hours before taking off to Tokyo to play the Olympic Games. Van Aert has won a high mountain stage with Mont Ventoux as judge, another on a time trial and the latter on a sprint. He is a boy for everything.

Cavendish did take the podium to showcase the green, the only jersey that Tadej Pogacar did not devour. The Slovenian dressed in the white of the best young man, the polka dot of the best climber and the yellow of the absolute monarch, to which he added three stages. The harvest is identical to last year, but the development of the novel was very different from then. In 2020, he unexpectedly traced his compatriot Primoz Roglic in the time trial on the penultimate day. He only wore the garment for two days. In this 2021 he reached the leadership in the first great mountain event, with a tremendous blow in the Alps, and has worn the tunic for 14 consecutive days. Demolisher.

At his 22 years, which will be 23 in September, his progression is stratospheric ... And voracious. Because Pogacar is not satisfied only with winning the general. He likes to have fun, accumulate victories and jerseys, and even show stripes to deliver justice in the peloton, like the day he abused Michal Kwiatkowski, a world champion, for attempting a breakout just after a pileup.

Pogacar emerged in 2018 with the Tour del Porvenir. A year later he made his debut in the Vuelta a España, his first major, with three stages and the third step of the podium. In 2020 and in 2021 he has won the Tour de France, this last time with other great triumphs hunted along the way, such as the Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the Tirreno-Adriatico. The Slovenian grows and grows. It always goes to more. And now the enigma is knowing where your limit is. Does cycling await a long 'Pogacar era'?

With the aftertaste of its exhibition still on the palate, the temptation is to answer that question in the affirmative, but before doing so it is convenient to rewind to the first chapters of the series. This Tour 2021 was presented as a duel between Pogacar and Primoz Roglic, with the decisive refereeing of the powerful Ineos, who lined up up to four possible leaders at the start: Richard Carapaz, Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte and Tao Geoghehan Hart. Those initial downfalls completely changed the argument. Once the wounded count was done, only Carapaz was in a position to challenge the champion. And well he did, but his insistent attacks did little damage.

The only one who managed to show any fissures of the Slovenian was Jonas Vingegaard on Mont Ventoux, a Dane who inherited the leadership of Roglic and who has shown that he has a great lap, or several, in the legs. At 25, it has been the great discovery of the race. With sufficient preparation and mentality, it will be necessary to see if those 5:20 minutes that have now separated him from Pogacar are his real disadvantage.

But that will be another story. The current one comes to an end. In this new novel, equally loaded with vibrant chapters, there may also be Spanish protagonists. In the Tour 2021 they have appeared little. Enric Mas finished sixth, one place below last year. Pello Bilbao, ninth. And there was no stage victory, for the third consecutive edition. Endless drought. The book does not give for more.

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