*This article originally appeared on VeloNews
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) soloed to the win on stage 11 of the 2021 Tour de France.
The Belgian national road champion and three-time world cyclocross champion went solo on the second lap over Mont Ventoux never looked back.
“I’m lost for words. It’s so stupid to say but, of course, I did not expect to win this stage before the Tour de France. But actually, yesterday, I already believed in it. I asked the team to be the guy to go for the breakaways, and it’s one of the most iconic climbs in the Tour and the world and the world of cycling,” van Aert said.
How it happened
In nearly perfect conditions for bike racing, four men were off the front including Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) and Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), and over a cat 1 climb that preceded two ascents of the Géant of Provence.
The quartet had 15 seconds on the first chase group of 12 riders, five minutes on the yellow jersey group which was lead by Team Ineos, and nearly eight minutes on Cavendish’s group of 14 when they arrived at the base of Mont Ventoux for the first lap of the monster climb in the stage. The group of four was brought back by the group of 12.
Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) were dropped from the main bunch, while Tiesj Benoot (Team DSM) abandoned the Tour on the first lap of Ventoux.
Jumbo Visma was riding on the front of the peloton for Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in the white jersey, with UAE-Team Emirates in a bubble guarding the yellow jersey with more than 40km of racing remaining.
In the front group were Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange), Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Kenny Elissonde and Julien Bernard (both Trek-Segafredo), Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Xandro Meurisse (Alpecin-Fenix), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), and others.
The group on the front had split into two groups of seven on the acceleration of van Aert and Alaphilippe about halfway up the first of two ascents of Ventoux.
Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), who had been on the front group dropped back to the second group on the road for a handful of kilometres. He accelerated and made it back to the front to join his teammates Elisonde and Bernard.
Twice over Mont Ventoux
Alaphilippe attacked the break on the steep ramp to the summit and went over the top first on the first of two laps of Ventoux. The Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider was not given much leash on the 110+kph descent.
Behind the leaders, 2016 Olympic champion Gre Van Avermaet (AG2R-Citroën) was scooped up by the peloton on the first descent of Ventoux.
Onto the steeper, second approach of Ventoux, Dylan Van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) was dropped from the main bunch.
Perez was dropped from the front group, leaving Trek-Segafredo with nearly 50 per cent of the men in the front of the race.
With 40km of racing — nearly half of which were descending — to go, and starting the second ascent of one of the most iconic climbs in pro cycling, Trek-Segafredo climber Elisonde went off the front of the race.
Only van Aert, Mollema, and Alaphilippe remained at the front of the race, chasing Elissonde with 38km to go. The wearer of the rainbow jersey looked to be in distress, grimacing under the pressure applied on the climb
Launching an attack, van Aert distanced Mollema and the world champion when he bridged to Elissonde. This move sent rippled behind him and Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroën), who was second on the general classification was popped from the yellow jersey group with 10km of climbing to go.
Some kilometres back, Michael Woods (EF Education-Nippo) gave up chasing after the leaders and dropped back to the big bunch. Even further back, Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-NextHash) abandoned the Tour between ascents of Ventoux.
Vingegaard, in the white jersey, attacked at 1.8km from the second summit of Ventoux, forcing Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates), Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), and Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo) to chase. The Jumbo-Visma rider distanced himself from the yellow jersey 1km from the summit. Pogačar, Carapaz, and Urán chased after him, with the Slovenian in the yellow jersey getting some dozen kilometers out before he was brought back on the descent.
This was van Aert’s fifth top-10 in the 2021 Tour de France.
“It was really hard to come in this Tour on a proper level, and the first week we had so much bad luck with the team. Even today, we lost Tony Martin in a crash. This is so nice. If you keep being motivated and you keep believing it, some day it will work out. I’m really proud,” said van Aert.
The two Trek-Segafredo riders Elissonde and Mollema came through in second and third, while behind them, Pogačar sprinted into fourth place, ahead of Urán, Carapaz, and Vingegaard.
Commenting on Vingegaard’s moves, Pogačar said, “No, I’m really not surprised. I’ve seen already, in the beginning of this year, that he might be one of the strongest climbers in this era for sure. I think he has a really bright future. He’s a super strong rider.”
What’s to come
Stage 12 is a 159.4km-route from Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux to Nîmes, and is another opportunity for the sprinters.
The finish line is at the end of a flat 1,000m straight on the 19.6 feet wide Avenue Président Salvador-Allende.
This means that Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick-Step), who has previously won stages in Nîmes, will be on the hunt for his fourth stage win of this year’s Tour. Cav’s doing so would equal the record set by Eddy Merckx of 34 career Tour stage wins.
Imagery:ASO/Pauline Ballet & Aurélien Vialatte
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