250 kilometers of madness ends with silver

Jasper Stuyven finished off a spectacular day of racing with second place in an epic Stage 7 of the Tour de France

On paper it was already a big day of racing. At 249 kilometers, Stage 7 was the longest of the 2021 Tour de France – and longer than any other stage in the last 21 years of Tour history. It didn’t have the iconic climbs which script epic battles, but today the riders wrote their own story in a Classic-style race.

It was a stage tipped for a breakaway and a huge battle unfolded as everyone and their dog wanted to be part of the escape group.

Attack after attack jumped up the road, each rider taking a turn to get in what they hoped would be a successful move. It took almost an hour of full gas racing, with an average speed just shy of 50 kilometers per hour, for a group to go clear. And what a group it was!

A host of cycling royalty made up a breakaway of 29 riders – winners of just about every race on the calendar, from Grand Tours to Monuments, as well as the yellow and green jerseys. Trek-Segafredo was one of the best represented teams in the breakaway with three strong riders: Toms Skujins, Vincenzo Nibali and Jasper Stuyven.

It was hard to get into the breakaway; a lot of fights. We were expecting a breakaway, but maybe not quite that big.
- Jasper Stuyven

What made the stage really interesting were the dynamics in play for the GC. It’s unusual for the yellow jersey to be in a break like today, but this is Mathieu van der Poel so we can’t be too surprised about him disregarding cycling norms. Likewise, it would be foolish to allow him, or a proven Grand Tour winner like Nibali to gain a big advantage so early in the race. However, the UAE team of Tour favorite Tadej Pogačar couldn’t contain the collective engines of the 29 escapees, all working in unison. The gap swelled, and the cycling world’s imaginations began to run wild with the possibilities.

It was a thing to behold, 29 riders working against the might of a single team. However, over the course of the race the cooperation broke down, and so did the time gap as other GC teams came to help UAE.

“I was actually surprised that they were keeping us somewhat close. It did not concern me too much as I was busy with our race – it was hard enough to try and make the best choice in that big group,” said Stuyven.

At some point, there is always a lack of cohesion in a breakaway group that large.  Mohoric struck at an ideal time with an attack over the Côte de Château-Chinon with Brent Van Moer (Lotto Soudal) for company – some 87 kilometers from the finish – and the lack of cooperation and tired legs allowed the pair a healthy advantage.

Behind, the elite group marked each other.

Nibali made a powerful attack but it was Jasper who found daylight from the rest of the group, bridging the one-minute gap to the two leaders with Victor Campenaerts (Qhubeka-NextHash). “There was a lot of looking to each other and I think I found a good moment to go across to the two in front,” Stuyven said.

The four leaders rode together until the next climb when Mohorič’s fierce pace dropped Campenaerts from the equation, and then on the penultimate climb, shed Stuyven and Van Moer.

“The climbs were not a problem except the 1.7km one with the 15% gradient was too not ideal for my body weight.  That is what killed me, I think,” continued Stuyven.

“Mohorič was super strong and on the steep part he got a gap and I tried to limit the loss there, but I couldn’t close it afterward. Then on top of the last climb I cramped a bit, it is what it is, he was the strongest and I cannot change anything about it.”

A strong performance by Stuyven, who was in his element in the Classic-like parcours, but unfortunately ran up against an even more impressive Mohorič.

“Tired and disappointed,” answered Stuyen about his race, “but today there was one guy stronger. I left it all out there, I tried the best I could, and again I was close to a stage win in the Tour and that’s maybe the bigger disappointment than finishing second today.

“It’s one of the stages that I targeted before the Tour so I have to be happy that I was there, I was close, I fought for it.  It’s the best I could do.”