Rating the 2021 Tour de France top 10
From Uran to Pogacar, we assess the performances of this year's best GC riders
The 2021 Tour de France was wrapped up in Paris on Sunday, with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) topping the overall standings with his second victory in as many years.
His victory seemed ingrained since the very first week, and similarly the podium ended up being a very clear-cut affair, with debutant Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) the only riders able to get near the yellow jersey in the Pyrenees.
Filling out the rest of the top 10 were a couple of surprise packages, a couple of consistent performances, and a couple of disappointments. Cyclingnews takes a look at where the 2021 Tour de France leaves its top-10 finishers, and what now lies ahead.
10. Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo)
Highlight: Two top 10s, 10th overall, and a couple of decent attacks in the first half of the race.
Tour report: 10th in the Tour de France is nothing to be sniffed at, and half the squads in this year’s race would have taken that result had it been offered to them at the Grand Départ in Brest, but this wasn’t what EF or Urán would have settled for heading into the Pyrenees.
On the face of it, this was another impressive ride from the talismanic Colombian but it comes with caveats because, for the second year running, the wheels fell off the Urán bus in the second half of the race, and for the second straight year the veteran faded when it mattered most. There’s only so long the American team can consider Urán as a genuine Grand Tour leader, and certainly one worth divesting their complete efforts into.
At 34, Urán is far from a finished athlete – he could do this all again next year – but it’s time for EF to also consider when to bring Hugh Carthy back to the Tour and where their next generation of GC candidacy is going to come from.
Best non-Tour results of 2021: The stage win and second place in the Tour de Suisse was a timely reminder of Urán’s undoubted class and how far he’s come since his injuries of 2019.
Tour 2022? It really depends on the route. If the ASO sticks three time trials in the parcours then Carthy heads back to the Giro and Urán, along with the rest of the team, can hit the Tour looking for stage wins.
9. Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious)
Highlight: A top 10 on the Col du Portet.
Tour report: Bilbao was one of many riders in the top 10 who was almost anonymous in the GC battle. Sure, he followed in the mountains, but the top three – and certainly Pogačar – were so dominant that many riders including Bilbao were effectively riding a different race.
This was still a commendable result for the former Astana rider who moved into a GC position once Jack Haig left the race in an ambulance. He was dogged in the mountains, turned out a couple of average time trials but paced himself when the road went uphill. The fact that he’s raced four Grand Tours since last August and been in the top 20 in each of them is a more impressive stat than his ninth in Paris.
It must be mentioned that Bilbao’s hotel room – along with those of all of his teammates – were searched by 50 police officers in Pau, and that, while nothing was found, the team have been placed under a preliminary investigation for doping. The team deny all wrongdoing.
Best non-Tour results: Won a stage in the Tour of the Alps.
Tour 2022? Several key climbers are out of contract at Bahrain Victorious but, with no major signings on the horizon, Bilbao may have done enough to secure himself a leadership role in one of the three Grand Tours. That’s unlikely to be the Tour de France but it’s not impossible to imagine him in a free role at the Giro or Vuelta and asked to ride support in July.
8. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis)
Highlight: A couple of top 10s and the ability to flip his focus to the GC halfway through the race.
Tour report: Martin came into the Tour de France aiming for stage wins and with little to no determination to target the GC. That appeared to be a sound approach given his somewhat underwhelming ride in the Critérium du Dauphiné but, two days in the breaks during the opening half of the race propelled him into the top 10 before the road to Quillan catapulted him from ninth to second overall.
That sort of a head-start ahead of the final week ensured that Martin’s approach changed and, although he dropped to ninth before rising to eighth again, this was a best-ever finish by the Frenchman.
Best non-Tour results: He won the Classic Alpes-Maritimes in May and also picked up sixth in Paris-Nice.
Tour 2022? Even though the route isn’t out until October, there’s little chance of Martin targeting the GC in another Grand Tour unless he takes on the Vuelta after the Tour and looks to hold form into the second half of the year. France’s top finisher will be back at the Tour next year.
7. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-PremierTech)
Highlight: Lutsenko was never lower than 14th overall in the race, which demonstrates his consistency.
Tour report: With Jakob Fuglsang having an off Tour and the rest of the team threatening but never quite making a lasting impression, it was down to Lutsenko to fly the flag for a squad that, minus a clutch of national championships, has been devoid of regular wins and inspiration.
It wasn’t spectacular or pretty; Lutsenko ground his way up the climbs and rattled off a couple of strong time trials but in a results business his seventh place in Paris rescued the race for Astana. This was easily Lutsenko’s best result in a three-week race and, following on from his second place in the Critérium du Dauphiné, the 28-year-old has seemingly remoulded himself as a stage racer.
Best non-Tour results: A stage win and second overall at the Dauphiné.
Tour 2022? With Alexander Vlasov and a host of riders heading to the exit door, Astana need new faces to step up. Without a huge budget, that might mean riders like Lutsenko are forced to spin plates in events that aren’t typically their specialty. That said, he’s won a stage and finished in the top 10 in the last two years, so he clearly has a knack for peaking at the right time.
6. Enric Mas (Movistar Team)
Highlight: Fourth on the stage to Luz Ardiden provided a timely reminder of his ability.
Tour report: As in 2020, Mas only began to find his best form just when the race was heading into its final throws, but his attacks at Luz Ardiden were entertaining nonetheless and, for the briefest of moments, it looked as though a maiden Tour stage win was on the horizon.
Those moves were also the only time a rider inside the top 10 and outside the top three put in repeated digs against Pogačar but Movistar ultimately want more than just an opportunist and sixth in Paris is arguably a small step back given that Mas was fifth last year and a number of high profile riders crashed or cracked. The Spaniard and his team did well to avoid the crashes but Movistar didn’t sign the 2018 Vuelta runner-up in order to see Ben O’Connor and Jonas Vingegaard finish so far ahead of him.
Best non-Tour results: Won a stage in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana.
Tour 2022? Mas is consistent, he just doesn’t win a lot and at some point the bosses at Movistar might decide to change tact and pivot him towards a Giro/Vuelta combination.
5. Wilco Kelderman (Bora Hansgrohe)
Highlight: Looked on the money in the first two stages and climbed well during the entire three weeks.
Tour report: Seventh, third and fifth in his last three Grand Tours – it really was a shocking decision for DSM to let him walk out the door last year given their lack of experience. It’s true, Kelderman doesn’t have the acceleration of the pure climbers, his time trialing seems to be going backwards ever so slightly, and he hits the deck with frustrating regularity, but he’s still a formidable stage racer. His TT on stage 5 was average by his standards but in the Alps and the Pyrenees especially, he rode his own race and paced himself faultlessly.
Best non-Tour results: Fourth in the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Tour 2022? With Jai Hindley on the way and Vlasov also expected to link up with Bora over the winter, it’s not clear how the German team will split their Grand Tour arsenal. With top-10 results in all three major events, it could be Kelderman who is dispatched to target either the Giro or the Vuelta.
4. Ben O’Connor (AG2R Citroën)
Highlight: Winning the stage into Tignes and igniting not just his Tour but his entire team’s season.
Tour report: Not quite the revelation of the Tour de France but O’Connor certainly left his mark. After the opening week in which he crashed, it looked as though the Australian would play a minor role in the race but everything changed on the road to Tignes with a stage win that also vaulted the Australian into second overall.
Holding that position was always going to be a tall order but the 25-year-old clung on to a top-five before Urán dramatically cracked, which allowed him into fourth. For a Tour de France debut, this was the realms of dreamland, especially given that here was rider who was struggling for a top-level contract last year.
Some might say that without the time he was afforded in the break he would never have been inside the top 10 but racing doesn’t work like that; it’s not a 100-metre dash but a complex journey in which subplots and tactics are often just as important as who has the strongest legs. O’Connor more than held his own in the GC battle and fully deserved his position in Paris.
Best non-Tour results: He’s been consistent in a number of week-long stage races this year, proving that his Tour was no fluke.
Tour 2022? Team boss Vincent Lavenu was building a Classics team in the winter and moved on a number of his Grand Tour specialists but that’s all changed now with the emergence of O’Connor. He’ll be back at the Tour next year and that means Lavenu will need to sign a couple of climbers in order to give his leader some much needed support.
3. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers)
Highlight: You can question the tactics, you can question the leadership, but you can’t fault Carapaz’s tenacity and determination. He’s now the first rider from Ecuador to make the Tour de France podium
Tour report: Ineos came into the Tour with four potential leaders but just a week into the race and only Carapaz remained in contention. He was the only rider to consistently try and dismantle Pogačar in the mountains but the fact remains that he was never able to drop the two riders above him in the GC, and his time trial – while decent – was never in the same ball park. All that said, at least he made a race of it. Just imagine how tepid the GC battle would have been without him.
Best non-Tour results: Winning the Tour de Suisse.
Tour 2022? Carapaz is world class, of that there’s no doubt, but unless his rivals make a tactical blunder as they did in the 2019 Giro or he can reach an entirely new level in 2022, he just doesn’t have the weapons to hurt both Roglič and Pogačar. He couldn’t even crack Roglič’s debutant teammate.
If Ineos are serious about regaining the Tour title they need to draft in Bernal and do away with their multiple leader ethos. They have a way of riding and a particular style and that’s fine, it’s brought them success in the past, so their best bet would be to dispatch Carapaz to the Giro or alternatively stack everyone into their Tour team but remain entirely committed to Bernal.
2. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma)
Highlight: Finishing second on his debut.
Tour report: Originally not even in the team, Vingegaard was drafted into the eight-man selection after Tom Dumoulin took a well-needed break but the Dane seized his chance with arguably the best Tour debut since Pogačar’s in 2020.
Vingegaard was emphatic in the time trials and robust in the mountains, with his attack on Mont Ventoux providing a brief flicker of hope that the GC battle wasn’t over. He raced intelligently, despite being isolated at times, and looks like a genuine Grand Tour winner in waiting.
Best non-Tour results: Winning a stage in the UAE Tour ahead of Pogačar.
Tour 2022? A number of the Jumbo-Visma riders are on the wrong side of 30, so the Dane offers hope for the future and a post-Roglič world. It’s unlikely that the squad's strategy will change much next year with Roglič still the leader but Vingegaard is likely to ride as a support before having his own opportunity a year or two later. He will definitely have a chance to lead in another Grand Tour between now and then.
1. Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates)
Highlight of the 2021 Tour de France: It’ll be easier to list what he didn’t win.
Tour report: At times Pogačar looked like he was in a different race, toying with the breathless and desperate as he dropped them either one-by-one or all at once. The time trial on stage 5 was a marker but the attack on stage 8 with around 30 kilometres to go ended the Tour as a contest, while the back-to-back stage wins in the Pyrenees were typified by repeated and rapid accelerations. Pogačar is well and truly the poster boy of what modern cycling has become.
Best non-Tour results of 2021: Winning Tirreno-Adriatico.
Tour 2022? If he skips the Vuelta later this year then it’s possible he could take on a Giro-Tour combination next year. He’s unstoppable.
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he 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 ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.