The last big meeting of the 2021 season, the Tour of Lombardy played the closing ceremonies with the victory while mastery of Tadej Pogacar on Sunday 10 October. The time to take stock has arrived and one thing is certain, five riders have consolidated their reputation as terrors of the peloton: Julian Alaphilippe, Primoz Roglic, Wout van Aert, Mathieu van der Poel and therefore Tadej Pogacar. Five men who will logically end the year in the first five places in the UCI ranking.
Pogacar, the relapse of the new cannibal
Last year, he rushed to the top of the general classification of the Tour in the home stretch, seizing the yellow tunic on the Planche des Belles Filles. In 2021, Tadej Pogacar left no room for suspense. And reminded those who still doubted that he remained the boss of the Great Loop. Yellow jersey, best climber, best youngster, three stage victories and five minutes ahead of the overall standings, no one questioned the hegemony of the Slovenian.
This season has sounded like one of maturity for the UAE Emirates runner. Winner of his first Monument in Liège, he also triumphed over the towers of the United Arab Emirates, Slovenia and Tirreno-Adriatico, for a total of 13 successes. Before ending the year on a second Monument: the Tour of Lombardy, in Italy. Enough to become the third rider to win two monuments and the Tour de France the same year, after the legendary Eddy Merckx (1971 and 1972) and Fausto Coppi (1949). Just that.
We almost forget that a bronze medal at the Olympic Games is the crowning achievement. The most demanding will say that he could have done better on certain time trials, in particular at the Worlds (10th) or the European Championships (12th), so much he dominated that of Laval on the Tour. But being both a good roller and having such a great speed when you are a climber, the competition is almost unfair.
Alaphilippe crowned twice
Superlatives are lacking to qualify the performance of Julian Alaphilippe at the world championships. Sacred for the second time in a row, this time in Belgium, the Frenchman from the Deceuninck Quick-Step has shown, once again, that he is a rider apart. And this even if his first year in the rainbow turned out to be rather sparse. Injured at the end of last season, the Berrichon resumed in the spring. Second at the Strade Bianche and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, he proved intractable on the Flèche Wallonne, which had already been conquered for the third time.
Alaphilippe version 2021 is also the story of the Olympic Games shunned to focus on his family life. But before the missed Tokyo meeting, Alaf ‘attacked the Tour in his characteristic puncher style. With varying fortunes: yellow jersey on the evening of the first stage, but fanny in the next twenty despite remarkable efforts.
What does it matter for the French, whose stated objective was not to compete for the general. But in view of the “bluff” of its pre-Worlds communication in Louvain (“If I lose the jersey, it will be more of a relief than a disappointment”), should we really take Alaphilippe’s word for it? In any case, he was not struck by the myth of the “curse” of the world champion. While he used to be frustrated throughout the season (six second places), it was the day when all the gratin were there that he showed that he was the strongest.
Primoz Roglic still king of Spain
Crumbs of croquetas. This is more or less what Primoz Roglic is used to leaving to its rivals, especially in the Vuelta. Four stage wins for a third consecutive coronation, this time with more than four minutes ahead of Enric Mas. On the Tour of the Basque Country, like a magnanimous king, he even allowed himself to let David Gaudu cross the line before him on the last stage in Arrate.
The Slovenian found in Spain a land of consolation, to heal the wounds of his passages in France after his fall on the last stage of Paris-Nice when he was largely the leader and above all, the one which pushed him to abandon during of the first week of the Tour. A year after the Planche des Belles Filles tragedy, he was unable to take revenge on his compatriot Tadej Pogacar.
In a way, his season will retain a certain bitterness. In what was still missing from his record, he did not reach the ultimate goal on thee Tour de France and in Lombardy. Not sure that his Olympic gold medal in time trial allows him to compensate for his failures. Would we trivialize the exceptional by highlighting these few failings at the heart of a successful season (13 victories)? Probably a little, yes. But in a big day, Roglic displays such superiority over his pursuers that it becomes frustrating to see him falter. When it does not fall, the pedestal does not shake.
Wout van Aert as a tireless competitor
Winner of the Amstel Gold Race and Gand-Wevelgem, his first two great successes in Flanders and Ardennes, Wout van Aert has built up a now well-established track record with 13 additional victories this year. His three stage victories in the Tour de France, on three completely different terrains (sprint, mountain, time trial), made the followers of the Grande Boucle hallucinate. Before him, only Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, had achieved this performance. Excuse the little.
But in view of his final results, the Belgian can have some regrets. On the one hand, his record seems a little inflated by his five victories on the Tour of Great Britain alone. On the other hand, he often played placed (23 podiums) without raising his arms on the biggest events, perhaps caught up by the generosity of his efforts in the race: Strade Bianche (4th), at Paris-Roubaix (7th) via Milan-San Remo (3rd), the Tour of Flanders (6th) or the Olympic Games (2nd).
The Belgian also failed six seconds behind Ganna at the time trial world championships. However, he will wear a distinctive jersey, that of the Belgian national champion. Little consolation for an ogre who would have liked to shine all the time in addition to already shining everywhere and on all terrains.
Van der Poel, the summer hit
It did not last as long as Naps and his “kiffance”, but Mathieu van der Poel can, all the same, claim the status of the hit of the summer. In six days, the Dutchman enchanted the cycling world by defending his yellow jersey to the point of exhaustion on the Tour, the tunic that his illustrious grandfather Raymond Poulidor had never managed to wear. His smile, as much as the performances, rekindled the nostalgia of the oldest while winning the hearts of the youngest. And this even if his detractors reproached him for sacrificing the Great Loop to focus on the Olympics.
Tokyo where, in fact, Van der Poel fell on a mountain bike. And therefore compromised his end of the season, returning for an anthology Paris-Roubaix that he led and almost won. Earlier in the season, the Alpecin-Fenix rider had hooked the Strade Bianche to his record, before being blown away at the Tour of Flanders by Kasper Asgreen. Result of the races: the Batavian finished with eight victories. All the more noticeable since it has drawn a line on certain meetings to continue to do a little cyclo-cross (world champion for the third time in a row, in front of a certain … Wout van Aert) .