The peloton is almost at the midpoint of the 2021 Tour de France, with nine stages in the pocket and the first time trial and two big Alpine tests firmly in the rear-view mirror.
The first rest day is a good time to take stock of the overall rankings then, and check how the general classification favourites are shaping up so far.
There are few better placed to do that than a former Tour de France winner, so we've gotten in touch with 2010 champion Andy Schleck and asked him to run the rule over the Tour favourites.
It's no surprise to see Tadej Pogačar on top after a series of stunning time trial and climbing performances so far. The remainder of the GC favourites are more closely clustered together, though. Read on for Andy Schleck's judgements.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) ★★★★★
Well, what can I say? He's making it look as though he was out of shape last year. At the same time, he's definitely showing signs of progression as he gets older year by year but he's clearly showed that he's the strongest rider in this year's race. That said, the guys have only been racing for a week, and the road to Paris is a long one, so there's still a lot that can happen in the coming fortnight.
At the moment though, he's riding his own race, and riding a different race to all the others, so if any of his rivals want to conquer him then they need to be more creative than they have been so far. If they wait for the last six kilometres of a mountain stage, and then start taking hard pulls in order to drop him, then that's just not going to work. He's already over five minutes ahead of riders like Richard Carapaz, and Primož Roglič and Geraint Thomas are either out or no longer a feature on GC. We have very few podium contenders left for the end.
It is early to take yellow, and I don't quite understand why he attacked yesterday to get another 30 seconds. He has the gap, he has five minutes, so maybe he wants to make it 10 or 15 minutes. But is that really what he wants? He could have just stayed with Carapaz on stage 9 and it would have shown a bit more sympathy for the other riders or does he just want to show that he's the strongest? I think that was clear enough already.
Rigoberto Urán (EF-Education Nippo) ★★★★
He's sitting third overall, but he's still flying under the radar. He climbs his way slowly up there and while I think that Richard Carapaz is a better rider on paper, I would give Urán the advantage when it comes to finishing on the podium. We've not seen the Colombian go on the attack yet, so he's watching the race evolve, and while that's not as explosive as Carapaz's tactics, I think that Urán is just waiting for the third week.
I don't know if he will go on the attack or not but his time trial was very effective and he's saving those matches for when he needs them in the Pyrenees. He has such great experience when it comes to racing like this and I don't see him falling away later in the race.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) ★★★
As I said, he's a better rider than Urán on paper but already he's gone on the attack three times and he has nothing to really show for it. It's nice to see riders try but you only have so many chances, and it's like a bottle of water – if you boil it all at once then it's a waste of energy for later on.
At variouos points, I've seen Carapaz get 10 or 15 seconds on his rivals, but when the gap isn't extending he needs to take his foot off the gas and take it easy. Sometimes it's just not your day but if I was him I wouldn't be trying to gain a few seconds here and there, I'd be trying to take minutes. You can't do that if you attack close to the finish or when it's clear that you're not pulling out a gap. Compare that to Urán, who I think will try something later in the race, and he hasn't been on the attack yet.
Overall this hasn't been the Ineos we expected to see. At the start of the race, I said that this was a team full of V8's but we've not seen that and it looks like they're panicking a bit. The same goes for Jumbo-Visma.
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) ★★★
Like Ineos, the Jumbo-Visma team have lost their way a bit. I hope that some teams get their shit together and Vingegaard might be a solution for the Dutch team. Right now, he's their only option for GC. I know that he's young, and he did crash in the Alps but he looks steady.
The final stages in the mountains are going to be a big test for him and his strength but to me, it looks like he has real character and belief. The team around him isn't firing on all cylinders but there's still more than enough talent to support him in the mountains and on the flat.
I think that, as a team, Jumbo really needs a stage win though, just to turn their race around and give them a bump in morale, so I expect Wout van Aert or Sepp Kuss to step up.
Enric Mas (Movistar) ★★★
He's up there but I still don't see him doing a podium in this year's Tour de France. Not yet anyway. When I see Mas, the impression that I have is that he's constantly on the limit.
He's not able to attack and he's on the edge – and this is only the first week of the Tour. Let's see how he goes over the next week because the potential is there. He's only about 30 seconds off the podium right now, so it's all in the balance.
Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën) ★★★
The Australian has really impressed me. He obviously lost some time in the first week but he's bounced back really well and now he's sitting second overall. He was very impressive, not just winning a stage, but just with how he climbed the final ascent on stage 9. With so many favourites out of the race or struggling, this is a real chance for O'Connor to finish in the top 10 or even the top five.
He now needs to change his approach, because he won't be allowed to go up the road again, and this takes a different style and approach. I think he has the form to finish well in Paris, and he has a decent buffer for now, but there's still a lot of climbing to come. We've known about his talent for many years, now O'Connor needs to seize his chance.
Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) ★★★
Kelderman is riding smart. He knows his place and he knows how to pace his efforts. He also knows that he's not able to attack but he saves his energy. That will help him in the third week when fatigue will really set in, but he also does his work and takes pulls if he needs to. He's a bit like Urán in that sense, but maybe not quite on the same level.
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) ★★
The Frenchman came into the race hunting stage wins and while I don't think that this aim should be abandoned, he's also got to start to think about a top 10 in Paris.
His best finish was 11th a couple of years ago but the race has opened up for him. Martin could go on the attack and make it into a move that claws back more time but he has options now when it comes to the overall. I don't think that he can match the best in the mountains but he's not a million miles away.
David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) ★★
Gaudu hasn't quite shone as much as many expected but he's still in the hunt for a good place on GC. Like Martin, he doesn't have a lot to lose at this point, but he's just not been able to show aggression.
He's never really been in the position to do that but he might look at some of the breaks and try and sneak away. I think that he'll be looking at the Ventoux stage and that might bring some suspense back into the race.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech) ★
Jakob Fuglsang is going for stages so he's not in the GC picture, but his teammate is still up there in the top 10. I was a bit surprised to see him drop back so much on stage 8 but I think he's still in contention for a top 10 at this point.
Lutsenko's eighth and less than a minute off third but he'll also be looking around his shoulder and seeing Guillaume Martin and David Gaudu close by.
★★★★★ – Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
★★★★ – Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo)
★★★ – Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), Enric Mas (Movistar), Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën), Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe)
★★ – Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ)
★ – Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Premier Tech)
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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