After 15 stages, the peloton have a day off on Monday in a Tour de France that has undergone a revolution in the top order, sizzled in a heatwave and welcomed a new star to its ranks.
Here AFP Sport looks at some of the thrills and spills that have made the 109th edition of the world’s most prestigious bike race such an enthralling spectacle.
Pogacar mountain meltdown
There are no sure things in sport and Tadej Pogacar’s fall from a position of force serves as a cautionary tale. The defending champion had attacked at every opportunity, saying: “Any time I can take a few seconds, why not?” Cumulative fatigue is one answer. When Jumbo-Visma and others launched a series of attacks on an Alpine mountain in stage 11 Pogacar suddenly looked human, losing 3min 1sec to Jonas Vingegaard, who ended the day in the yellow jersey.
British rookie Tom Pidcock showed world-class skills as he won stage 12 on France’s national holiday. The Olympic mountain-bike gold medallist and the cyclo-cross world champion swooped down a mountain with such elegance and fearless speed that no one could keep up. “People did not want to risk chasing me,” said the 22-year-old who went on to win on the famous Alpe d’Huez climb. Pidcock often lies flat on his saddle during cyclo-cross wins, with a clenched fist forwards in a Superman pose. The lad from Leeds says his ambitions now include more than just winning stages.
French environmental campaigners briefly halted the race in the Alps on stage 10 in a protest that went viral. The same woman who had interrupted the French Open tennis tournament in June chained herself by the neck to another protester with the group’s name written at neck level. On her white T-shirt was a slogan: “We have 989 days left”. They again protested on stage 15 that may have caused the crash that saw Jumbo’s Steven Kruijswijk pull out injured.
Feeling the heat
With a heatwave building towards a sweltering peak, organisers arranged for tens of thousands of litres of cold water to be poured onto roads as surface temperatures exceeded 60 Celsius (140 Fahrenheit) under the searing sun. Tarmac starts to melt at such extremes, but cold water will solidify the surface if it is doused 20 minutes before the cyclists pass through. The fire brigade have been on hand to help police execute the operations.
Jumbo’s decision to allow Primoz Roglic to withdraw ahead of stage 15 now appears to have been a rash move. During the stage overall leader Vingegaard also lost key aid Kruijswijk when he fell 65km from the finish line in Carcassonne and departed in an ambulance, weakening Vingegaard’s defences in a tense struggle for the title with Pogacar, who also lost two teammates after Covid-19 positive tests. “It’s two very important teammates, two very strong riders. It’s quite a bad day for us,” said the yellow jersey wearer. Pogacar felt no sympathy, saying: “If I hadn’t lost my two teammates it would be different. Now we go into the last week an even match.”