Konrad had more legs than anyone else and Pogacar took a walk
The last week of the Tour de France 2021 continued with a strange stage because there were mountains to test Pogacar (if anyone still wanted to), but no, it did not seem favourable to try it, as the mountain passes intruded on a route that ended downhill and flat, so without a high finish, an attack in these final uphill sections could only be one more argument to get caught in the end. Everyone followed that script, except Konrad. The Bora rider looked strong and attacked from distance. Despite the chase, no one was able to catch him and he won alone.
An attractive stage and a consented breakaway
The truth is that the stage profile itself was a beautiful one: two second and one first stage pass almost at the halfway point, the Col de la Core, to go down to Saint-Gaudens with a small uphill of 800 metres just 7 kilometres from the finish line. That ramp did invite last-minute attacks in search of the stage if they arrived together.
But the race broke up very quickly, several breakaways were forged and, in the meantime, the peloton didn't move too much.
The first to attack half an hour into stage 16 was Kasper Asgreen, followed by Stuyven and Pedersen. With just over a minute between them, it was still far from clear that the breakaway attempt was going to consolidate, especially as the peloton itself was being chased down. This meant that Stuyven and Pedersen were caught without delay and each soon began their own battle: Cavendish was dropped in the very early break. Only Van Aert's attack caused Pogacar to say enough was enough, but in the rest of the cases, the escapees began to splash each other.
The peloton pulled and pulled and practically caught the escaped trio, but also caused a split into two main groups, a cut of more than a minute in just 20 minutes that gave perspective on the pace of the first. Let's remember: third week of Tour de France 2021 and an average of almost 48 kilometres per hour in the first hour.
In the meantime, a relaxation of the peloton and that moment of human and physiological relief led to another small breakaway, this one more numerous, which went after the courageous bunch. Eleven riders including Périchon, Konrad, Colbrelli, Michael Matthews, Bonnamour and Gaudu. The peloton was not very interested as many teams had members in the breakaway and UAE had lost up to three riders in the second peloton. That has a name, or number: four and a half minutes for the breakaway, seven minutes when they reached the top of the Col de la Core. This looked good for the success of a breakaway that united at around kilometre 105, but broke away again with 50 minutes to go. The difference, however, was barely 30 seconds. They were going to play cat and mouse for a long time, as long as the peloton allowed them to do so. The brave trio at the front was formed by Konrad, Bakelants and Doubey.
Downhill and the outcome at Saint-Gaudens
With 50 kilometres to go, the strategies and suspicions began. The lead group held together, but with 36 kilometres to go Patrick Konrad tightened up the race. He put in another crown and left Bakelaerts and Doubey with four kilometres to go on the last climb of the day. It was a great gamble by Konrad, who opened up a gap very quickly while there was no reaction from behind, despite the fact that the cars warned of Konrad's movement through the loudspeaker. There was little strength left in general. Perhaps everyone was waiting for Gaudu's attack, but Konrad was waiting for a solo lead and went away, opening a gap, looking for the second stage victory for Bora in this Tour de France 2021.
All the cameras went to Gaudu, but the rider was waiting. We doubted whether he had the strength or not, because he had a couple of kilometres of uphill left to try the feat and fight for the stage with Konrad. He waited too long, started a kilometre from the summit and only Colbrelli was able to follow his wheel. Konrad's more than 40 seconds didn't seem to be enough. But to add a bit of spice, a very light but steady rain came down, adding to the tension on the downhill.
The excitement was here, even more so when the peloton went into ride mode. It was already 11 minutes off the lead, UAE were leading and Pogacar was even pulling and setting the pace and control, so there was little excitement behind.
Konrad started to go downhill and was literally going for it. He felt that a Tour win was worth it and the guy was riding way too fast on the more technical part, and yet he didn't seem to suffer. He kept his lead and even gained a few seconds more. After a few scares, especially from Colbrelli, they reached the last 25 kilometres separated by half a minute.
Pogacar: another day at the office. He effortlessly takes off another day, which for him is one day less on his way to Paris. Even his team-mates, who had dropped off, caught up with the peloton again at the low pace he set. He didn't mind leaving all the limelight to Konrad, who rode a great stage and got rid of the thorn from last week's Quillan, when he came in second. A great victory without any faults for the Austrian. Tomorrow, the last mountain stage that will decide the podium.
Before the finish, an attack by Van Aert, in response to Cofidis' liberty break, broke up the peloton although all the favourites stayed together.
- Konrad, P. - Bora Hansgrohe | 4:01:59
- Colbrelli, S. - Bahrain | +42
- Matthews, M. - Bike Exchange | +42
- Pogacar, T. - UAE | 66:23:06
- Uran, R. - Education First | +5:18
- Vingegaard, J. - Jumbo Visma | +5:32