Twenty-two years, 9 months and 27 days. That’s how long it took Tadej Pogačar to grow from a Slovenian newborn to a two-time winner of the Tour de France, the youngest in the history of a race first held in 1903.
The young prodigy from UAE Team Emirates asserted absolute dominance over the last three weeks to make history: three stage wins (in the time trial and over the mountains) and massive gaps in the overall standings that saw him take the yellow jersey home with a 5’20’’ advantage over Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and 7’03’’ on Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), the first Ecuadorian rider to climb onto the overall podium on the Champs-Élysées.
“He’s the new Cannibal”, the five-time winner of the Tour de France Eddy Merckx saluted, adding his voice to the many already celebrating Pogačar as one of the greatest talents road cycling has ever seen. Meanwhile, ‘Pogi’ was enjoying himself: “Cycling has been a game for me since I started. I’m enjoying playing it and I’m super happy.”
For Pogačar, the real fun began on stage 5, the first main challenge for the leaders chasing the overall victory. A 27.2km individual time trial lay ahead of them and no-one could challenge him as he powered himself to the stage win in Laval.
At that time, Mathieu Van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix) was still wearing the yellow jersey, as he did for six days in an action-packed first week loaded with emotional backstories. From day 1, Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) reignited the flame with an explosive stage win in Landerneau that he dedicated to his young child Nino, born just ahead of the Tour.
The very next day, the road race UCI World Champion passed the yellow jersey onto the shoulders of the cyclo-cross UCI World Champion Van der Poel after an explosive stage in Mûr-de-Bretagne. Riding his first Tour, the young Dutch star dedicated his success to his grandfather, French cycling icon Raymond Poulidor, who accumulated many successes on the roads of the Tour yet never wore the iconic jersey.
Pogi, Alaf’ and MVDP were among the most scrutinised riders ahead of the race, following their thrilling battles along the season. The first week of the race also saw the resurgence of a legend of the Tour whose best days seemed way past.
At 36 years 1 month and 28 days old, Mark Cavendish is the oldest winner of the green jersey, and the first rider to claim it in Tours 10 years apart - his first in 2011, repeated this summer.
Cavendish’s last stage victories in the Tour dated from 2016 and his recent seasons have been brutal with physical illness and mental health issues, but the Manx Missile reminded everyone that he is a unique sprinter and true champion when he raised his vengeful fists in the air at the end of sage 4, in Fougères, where he had already won in 2015.
Glimpses of the past were even clearer when he doubled up in Châteauroux (stage 6) with his hands on his helmet, as he mimicked his disbelief from 13 years earlier, when he took his first ever Tour de France victories in the very same city.
Another win in Valence (stage 10), and one more in Carcassonne (stage 14), and Cavendish’s tally was up to 34 Tour de France stage wins - as many as the legend Eddy Merckx had won in the 1960s and 70s.
Cavendish dominated the sprints - after Tim Merlier (Alpecin-Fenix) claimed the first one in Pontivy (stage 3) - and Pogačar took his share in the mountains, with two wins atop the Col du Portet and the climb to Luz Ardiden (stages 17 and 18). These two serial winners took the most stage victories but the Tour also opened the way to glory for many fearless attackers in an unbridled race.
Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Victorious), Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën Team), Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) and Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) all won from the breakaway. Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Victorious) did it twice, in Le Creusot (stage 7) and Libourne (stage 19).
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) even made it three stage wins, in very different fashions. After his three sprint victories in 2019 and 2020, the Belgian star tamed Mont Ventoux on stage 11 and displayed his raw power to dominate the final time trial in Saint-Émilion (stage 20). The Belgian all-rounder still had some fireworks in reserve for the last day, with an impressive sprint on the Champs-Élysées, making him the first rider to win a sprint, a mountain stage and an individual time trial in a single edition since Bernard Hinault in 1979. A great way to cap off a historic Tour de France.