The final stage of the 2nd stage race of the 2021 season, took the riders 162.5km around the city of Salon-De-Provence. There were 3x 3rd category climbs to contend with, so the bunch sprint was all but inevitable. A breakaway quartet escaped to have a maximum of 3m30s, the bunch do like this number to keep a small, doomed breakaway in check. The 4 riders included the breakaway specialist and two-time tour stage winner, Tony Gallopin [AG2R-Citroen]. Young Norwegian time trial specialist Andreas Luknessund [Team DSM]. Spaniard Luis Mas, no not the brother of the more well-known Mas in the pro peloton. Finally, 3rd division team Xeliss-Roubaix Lille Metropole, represented by Jérémy Leveau.
Mas, attacked on a little downhill, and without using the ‘super-tuck’… go figure right. Whilst solo, he maintained this gap before being caught by the rest of his breakaway companions with 10km to the finish. At which point Remi Cavagna, the French Time trial machine, took over from the leisurely pace setting from the early part of the day. After this change of pace, the gap plummeted by one minute in only a few kilometres before then creeping down more slowly, second by second. The breakaway with specialist Gallopin almost had a chance, but realistically never did.
The quartet were caught with only a couple of kilometres remaining, so did in fact put up a great fight, in the end. Ballerini from the moment of the catch was well placed on the impeccably well drilled Deceuninck-Quickstep train. But our eyes were struggling to follow him totally. Our attention was in fact drawn towards Arnaud Demare [Groupama-FDJ], who seemed distraught at the poor form his was enduring. It is well known sprinter’s wins come off the back of confidence, without that confidence they struggle to perform, potentially being pushed and barged more than normal. He seemed out of place, unconfident, and losing his teammate’s wheel on every corner. Unless he had an unseen crash on a corner, there was no other reason for this poor positioning. He was and is a long way from the form he showed in 2020. Aside from the Frenchman’s bad positioning the race was on at the front between Ballerini, winner of stage 1 & 2; Nacer Bouhanni [Arkea-Samsic]; Bryan Coquard [B&B Hotels p/b KTM] and Phil Bauhaus [Bahrain-Victorious].
Two lead-out riders who need credit for being on top form ahead of the early season classics, are firstly, Heinrich Haussler. He pulled a monster turn under the kite remaining out the saddle for a good three to four hundred metres before pulling off to let the world champion, Julian Alaphilippe, take over. The second lead-out man who pulled phenomenally well, was Zdenek Stybar [Deceuninck-Quickstep]. The Czech-Republican pulled a turn spanning nearly 500 metres of full gas riding. Now this is his speciality having come from a cyclocross background, but this is one of the best most consistent pulls in the finale of a race since Renshaw in 2009, dare I say. Not only did he do this incredible turn to position his leader, Ballerini, but he carried on sprinting out the saddle after his turn had finished. I seriously think everyone should watch out for this man. Could he replicate his double of Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and E3 Harelbeke from 2019? I sure think he can.
Final 500m, endgame entered, 5 sprinters wheel to wheel. A straight fight right? No. Phil Bauhaus had one final positioning card to play, surging round Bryan Coquard to rightfully obtain the wheel of Bouhanni, who in turn was following the wheel of Ballerini. This was crucial as it aided Bauhaus to get closer to the front of the race meaning he would have a higher chance of the win from this position than one further back, in Coquard’s position. Ballerini, clearly on form launched at 200 m to go. He didn’t look like the man from stage 1, his kick was slow and allowed Bouhanni to remain in his slipstream waiting to come around him. Our eyes now firmly focussed on the right of the screen and this fight between Ballerini and Bouhanni. Ballerini drifting towards the barriers on the left of the road (the right of our screens) and very, very nearly causing Bouhanni to have a repeat of the dreadful crash of Tour of Poland 2020, with Fabio Jakobsen. Thankfully, and to our hearts relief he did not. But he sure was inches away from his bars catching the ‘cheap’ barriers still being implemented by the UCI. whilst on the left quietly, powerfully coming around this duel was Bauhaus who would nab the win by half a bike length. IMO
Phil Bauhaus, then with the victory, and Team Bahrain can indeed say they have been Victorious in 2021. That must be a huge relief for them. More victories expected now. Additionally, in the excitement of the stage,*sarcasm* before air Alaphilippe nabbed some bonus seconds, which boosted him up a place in the General Classification splitting and preventing the Ineos 1-2. The round it out then, a top performance on his World Tour debut for Matt Walls, who gained 2x Top 10s. Phenomenal start.
IMO It was mentioned on the GCN racing news show a few weeks back about the barriers being addressed and there being changes in the works. But this is what I picked up on. It quotes “New Barrier standards in 2022,” already a year too late. But it can only happen “after consulting the sports key stakeholders.” I’m no businessman but surely if they’re keen on consulting the people paying the sport: 1. They might consult the riders about what they think should happen in terms of changes to safety* I am aware they received emails but it should be a bigger thing than a simple email. 2. Seek about drawing in investors or stakeholders who see the increasing demand for cycling, and who actually care about rider safety and the image the sport provides to the wider public. They should not be expected to be consulted just to wait a year until the whole matter is simply forgotten about.
1st Phil Bauhaus [Bahrain-Victorious]
2nd Davide Ballerini [Deceuninck-Quickstep]
3rd Nacer Bouhanni [Arkea-Samsic]
4th Matteo Moschetti [Trek-Segafredo] 5th John Degenkold [Lotto-Soudal] 6th Bryan Coquard [B&B Hotels p/b KTM] 7th Matthew Walls [Bora Hansgrohe] 8th Niccòlo Bonifazio [Total-Direct Energie] 9th Eduard-Michael Grosu [Delko] 10th Alexander Kristoff [UAE Team Emirates]