Welcome to the 2021 Tour de France coverage at the Podium Cafe! It’s been a busy year in the Editors’ lives, so pardon the light coverage so far, but we will be with you every step of the way through the Grand Boucle. How could we not? Even if it is in some ways inferior to the Giro d’Italia, and even if the Vuelta a España ends up being the most exciting race of the year. Whatever, the Tour is the Tour, and that’s that.
Of course, the Tour de France enjoys one major advantage over the other two grand tours: everybody cares about it waaaay more than anything else. It’s a bit like taking vacation in Italy, eating wonderful food, meeting great people, enjoying lovely weather, and then COMPLETELY FREAKING OUT about riding a gondola down the main canal in Venice. Sometimes people can’t help themselves. And yeah, the gondolas and the canals are pretty much beyond belief for anyone who hasn’t been to the Venetian in Las Vegas before. But perspective, people! My god…
I have it on good authority that this dynamic is well in play, however. Some industry people have spent lots of time in June, and also May, and maybe April and March and February, kicking out exactly the right gear for the upcoming Tour, knowing at the race is all about marginal gains now, or at least the teams believe this, and if they believe this, then I guess we all have to because that’s what will happen. Still, like the canal-riding gondola guy… they aren’t crazy. I wish I could say they were, but we just watched a one minute lead flip to a one minute deficit on the penultimate ITT last year. And this marked the third time in four years that the final verdict came down to about a minute. So either the teams are right to be worried about marginal gains because they matter so much, or they matter so much because teams are so worried about them. Same same.
Anyway, on to this year’s Tour. It starts super early, as it is wont to do in Olympic years, with major Alps climbs happening around the 4th of July, which is super weird. But whatever, it’s already summer weather everywhere, and nobody has any patience left for anything, so let’s get started! The traditional PdC Viewers’ Guide rates grand tour stages by considering what you should be willing to give up in order to tune in and watch the racing live. We know it’s not easy to catch every stage, particularly if you aren’t on vacation, so in the past we have based our Viewers’ Guides on what date nights you should consider sacrificing, what level of work day obligation you should consider blowing off, and even whether you should allow house remodeling to carry on, depending on what the stage looks like.
This time around, we will do things a bit differently, not contemplating a tradeoff but rather using pandemic-era behaviors as a comparison to the level of excitement each stage can bring. We have pretty much all spent the last 15 months trying to generate excitement in new and creative ways, or at least we have delighted in other people’s efforts. So I am going to use those behaviors to give you a good sense of how awesome a stage may be.
Stage 1: Brest – Landerneau, 197km
Saturday, June 26
What is it? The Grand Départ, which always looks nice but might come with a bit of extra pomp after last year’s off-kilter version. The Tour is the face of cycling, so it stands to reason that they might like to put on the bravest, most confident one they can. I’m not geeking out on what ASO have in mind, I’m just saying it might feel like a bigger deal than we think.
The host city, Brest, is doing the honors for a fourth time since WWII, most recently back in 2008, putting it on the short list of cities to go to in a pinch when you need a host city to step up. And this is exactly what happened when the original plan to start in Copenhagen crumbled when the UEFA EUROs pushed their tournament back a year, taking over the Danish capital at the same time as the planned Tour start. Now Copenhagen will serve as the Grand Départ host in 2022, with Brest nimbly filling the gap this year.
Brest is in the Finistère Department on the southern edge of the Breton land mass, a/k/a Brittany, which was once “Little Britain” (as opposed to GB) and a separate country, then diced up into various French départments, now down to four of them within the modern region of Brittany encompassing much of the old state, minus the area to the south now found in the Loire-Atlantique (which some are agitating for reuniting with Bretagne). Anyway, it’s a very distinct part of France, and cycling has long been a big deal here, even before native son Bernard Hinault snarled his way into our hearts.
Who does it favor? The stage itself finishes on a 3km climb of below average gradient (5.7%), which is probably steep enough to eliminate all the true sprinters but not the rest of the fast finishers.
Why does it matter? The opening stage is always a vehicle for distributing jerseys, and today’s course will to a fine job of that. The stage winner will end up in yellow and green, and could possibly take white too, though that rider will be unlikely to grab the spots, as there are several rated climbs in cats 3 and 4 on the course. None of these early advantages will hold up in the long run, assuming we have enough of a sprinters’ peloton to eventually seize the green jersey comp.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Hm, I would liken this stage to some of the ways that people made music in the early lockdown days of the pandemic. There are lots of examples around the world, from people singing a song out their windows together to opera musicians doing a zoom concert. Our local version was a pickup truck that drove around with a bunch of speakers in the back, playing very joyful Dixieland music, and with optimistic slogans painted on banners. Not a huge thing, but a noisy and upbeat demonstration of hope.
Stage 2: Perros-Guirec – Mûr de Bretagne, 183km
Sunday, June 27
What is it? A second bite at the Breton apple, as the Tour makes its fifth visit to the local legend of a climb, the Wall of Brittany, in 15 years. The Mûr-de-Bretagne actually showed up in the Tour as far back as 1939 and again in 1947 when it was rather notably included in a 139km ITT from Vannes to Saint-Brieuc, the longest in Tour history. That was the first post-war edition of the Tour, and the stage here is best remembered for overall leader Rene Vietto, who had been in yellow for most of the previous two weeks, dropping some 14 minutes on the stage, possibly because a friend of his had a bad motorcycle accident, or maybe because he drank some cider during the stage. These were not the days of marginal gains.
Who does it favor? The puncheurs. So much so that American TV coverage might suddenly act like they have discovered the term “puncheurs”.
Why does it matter? Because it’s still opening weekend? It’ll have stage significance only, although a second day with a smattering of KOM points might give us a clue as to who is interested in winning the thing.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Discovering a favorite new podcast. I’ll go first: the History of English Pod. Do you remember the Great Vowel Shift? I can’t say I do, but am pleased to know just how many of our regular words came from Columbus’ voyages to the Caribbean. Also rec the History of Byzantium pod. It’s a great time to hear lectures online about stuff you pretended to study in high school.
Stage 3: Lorient – Pontivy, 183km
Monday, June 28
What is it? The first sprinters’ stage. It starts near the ocean in the Morbihan Départment on the southern coast of the peninsula and winds inland. The terrain is still up-and-down, but the finish doesn’t feature any climbs. It does, however, feature the hometown of current UCI president David Lappartient. So bring out your boos.
Who does it favor? Sprinters and sprint teams. They will be out in full force here for the first time, with no pathway to win either of the first two stages. I suppose a breakaway isn’t impossible but it’s close to it.
Why does it matter? The maillot vert, you may have heard, is the crowning achievement for sprinters outside of maybe winning Milano-Sanremo or the World Championship, neither of which is left to the bunch gallopers very often these days. There are a handful of stages rated “flat,” with a full 50 points on the line at the line, and this is one of them.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Zoom family reunions. Some families are better at this than others, but there is no denying the importance of family for most people during tough times. Also, like sprint stages, the first one tends to be rather disorderly before settling down a bit, once the leadout men iron out their roles or the grandparents figure out how the app works.
Stage 4: Redon – Fougères, 150km
Tuesday, June 29
What is it? A rather routine stage meandering slowly away from Brittany, without actually getting there. Fougères is making its fifth entry in nine years, with a couple departures and a previous finish in 2015. The geographic pace of the Tour is unique compared to the Giro and Vuelta, who sometimes seem keen on having one stage in every region or province. The Tour is content to meander slowly and drink in their surroundings, even if it means missing huge portions of France. The Tour is forever and if your region didn’t see it this time, they will soon enough.
Who does it favor? Sprinters again. The race book talks of open spaces where crosswinds can be an issue, so we could see things break up some, although again there are 50 points available and it’s a relatively short stage.
Why does it matter? Does it matter? If you see a sprinter take two straight wins, then the pecking order for Green will be well established. Otherwise, nah.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Getting dressed up for telecommuting. Every now and then I have felt compelled to clean up fully and put on a nice shirt (with my jeans) to park myself again at the dining room table for work. Is it especially exciting? No, it is not. Does anyone else notice? Not very likely. But it’s worth a shot.
Stage 5: Changé – Laval, 27.2km ITT
Wednesday, June 30
What is it? A fairly flat time trial of middling length, the first of two similar time trials (the latter being on the final weekend) that will certainly help decide the overall standings. More of an incomplete circle of a route than a point-to-point. The Tour keeps their contre-la-montre courses fairly simple so that the race of truth is just that.
One cultural note, Laval is the home of the famous primitif modèrne artist Henri Rousseau, whose Sleeping Bohemian Woman is shown above. Le Douanier, as he was known (because he was a customs officer by day), apparently pleaded with the mayor of Laval to buy the painting for a trifling sum back in the day, but died penniless in 1910, a couple decades before the genre and its artists won wider acclaim. The Sleeping Bohemian Woman hangs in the MOMA, New York.
Who does it favor? Stage wise, there aren’t that many obvious time trial specialists in attendance, given the importance of Tour roster spots, but the more well-rounded GC contenders and a few other notable powerhouse types will be duking it out here for the win.
Why does it matter? Pretty self-explanatory as far as the overall GC goes. One wrinkle will be FroomeWatch, a race to make definitive statements about whether the four-time winner does or does not still have what it takes to challenge for the victory. If Froome can’t make an impact here, we will have our answer.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Driving or biking around early on during lockdown when the roads were empty. Like a time trial, or the emergence of a daring new painting genre, it was more of a slowly unfolding experience than a shot of quick catharsis, but in its subtle way it carried some real weight. Imagine a world with fewer cars? We cyclists can dream. Tough to pull off but it was nice to experience for a bit.
Stage 6: Tours – Châteauroux, 161km
Thursday, July 1
What is it? Another flat stage, completing the first week sprinters’ trilogy. This is a Tour specialty, daring you to look away from their all-powerful race. Also look! Loire valley chateaux!
Who does it favor? Take a wild guess. Actually if it were longer I might say this was ripe for a breakaway, but I think the peloton will decide it’s worth staying engaged for one more day.
Why does it matter? For green jersey contenders only, who will see this as another brick in the wall.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Hm, the best I can think of are my son’s SnapChat streaks, where if he looks at someone’s account each day, he is assigned … I dunno, it’s like an attendance record or something? Which is weird, because I don’t think he cares that much about his attendance record. Anyway, it’s something to pass the time.
Stage 7: Vierzon – Le Creusot, 249km
Friday, July 2
What is it? Oh my god. It’s the longest Tour stage in 21 years! And it’s not particularly flat either, with a full 3000 meters of elevation. Assassins!! It’s also a truly transitional stage, departing from the Loire Valley, finally saying goodbye to western France and traversing straight east to the Bourgogne region… before getting on a bus and driving to the launching point for the next day’s assault on the Alps. It’s as if the organizers were setting the course and someone finally looked up and exclaimed “holy shit! It’s stage 6 and we just left Bretagne! WE ARE DUE IN THE ALPS TOMORROW!!” I like to think ASO could be the setting for an awesome sitcom.
Who does it favor? The surest bet of the Tour will be that a breakaway is allowed to stay clear on this stage. Remember three sentences ago when I said the Alps start tomorrow? This is no place for the top men to get engaged. With a massive stage distance, the time cut will be more than an hour, and they will be happy to use a bunch of it.
Why does it matter? It’s easy to dismiss a sure-fire breakaway stage because it’s not likely to matter for long. But every now and then we have such a stage where the break contains a rider who you wouldn’t normally fear, but maybe don’t want to gift him 25 minutes. The situation among the top teams becomes chaotic and nobody ends up stopping the situation from unfolding. And the rest of the Tour is a march of shame.
Or it’s just a cool day for the reduced group of riders who race this stage like their life depends on it, and they put on a hell of a show.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? I’m not sure if this totally fits, but once I took a bike ride around Lake Washington at a time when boats were not allowed out. Lake Washington is normally about as peaceful on a sunny day as a French Riviera beach in July. But this time it was silence. A flock of ducks was floating on the water in a massive group, in the hundreds, while nearby a bald eagle just sat on a floating log, contemplating its next move. Sometimes, under the right conditions, you can find excitement in places you never thought possible.
Stage 8: Oyonnax – Le Grand-Bounand, 151km
Saturday, July 3
What is it? The Tour reaches the mountains! This stage is a bit of an appetizer within an appetizer, however. As Alps stages go, this isn’t terribly brutal, and anyway the Alps phase of this Tour is a bit below the demands the peloton will face in a very tough Pyrenean phase. But I’m not complaining.
Basically it’s a ride to the ski resort of Le Grand-Bornand, in the shadow of Mont Blanc, which is undoubtedly as lovely as it sounds. Will J can tell us all about the climbing action, and statistically it isn’t much, something that is borne out by a glance at the list of stage winners here (Alaphilippe, Rui Costa, Frank Schleck, Linus Gerdemann, and yeah, Lance). But the trio of climbs this time might make for a sneaky-tough day in the saddle, even if the peaks themselves don’t soar like some others.
Who does it favor? The overall contenders, of course, along with a host of other climber types, particularly those who covet the maillot a pois, the iconic climbers’ jersey.
Why does it matter? Apart from an early skirmish in for the battle for yellow, we should see the KOM comp take shape. For reference, the KOM point scoring system gives 20 points for a cat HC (hors categoire) prize (15 for second, 12 for third…) and a cat-1 is 10 to the winner (then 8, 6, 4…). There are only four HC climbs in the entire race, and two of them are stage finishes, when the overall contenders will take them off the polka-dot chasers’ plate. This is a good stage to start making your case for real.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Zillow-shopping. SNL did a rather hilarious, and possibly very on the nose, skit about couples engaging in a certain type of titillation involving looking at real estate on Zillow. When you are shut indoors together for months on end, the prospect of buying a small cabin in the woods can seem pretty hot. But not the main event.
Stage 9: Cluses – Tignes, 145km
Sunday, July 4
What is it? Arguably the Queen Stage of the 2021 Tour de France? It’s a little hard to pick one this year, but this is a contender. The highlight is in the middle: making only its second appearance in a Tour, the Col du Pré is a climber-geek specialty, one which the likes of our Will J can sing the praises… and guess what? He appears to have done just that a couple weeks ago. You can read all the details there or just know that it’s 26 hairpins over steep terrain — lots of 9-11% km toward the top — and ending above the Lac de Roselend, which the race will then go around via the road on top of the dam before going over the Cormet de Roselend summit. Majestic views, lots of cows, you get the picture. The climb to Tignes may be anticlimactic, except the riders won’t treat it that way.
Who does it favor? Same as the previous stage, a mix of GC guys and KOM chasers, plus riders just generally looking to bask in the glory of a massive Tour stage in the Alps. The fact that it’s so short means it might give even more guys ideas, although it also might mean they won’t get as long a leash.
Why does it matter? It won’t decide the maillot jaune, but this stage will almost certainly weed out some of the presumed contenders. It’ll also be a massive showdown for team supremacy between loaded INEOS and less-loaded teams whose captain is maybe better than what the Grenadiers can offer up? However you see the GC intrigue coming in, this is a stage that will start answering questions for us.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Porch Parties! In calmer phases of pandemic life, it seemed perfectly safe to recreate a sliver of our former social life on our front porch, or someone else’s. This went on into the winter, which brought the value of outdoor patio heaters into focus. Anyway, this was a big development, actual personal contact over actual food and drinks. I don’t know if it was the Queen Stage of pandemic improvisation, but it’s in the conversation.
Stage 10: Albertville – Valence, 190km
Tuesday, July 6
What is it? Flat run out of the Alps, and the official end of the climbing until the Pyren… hey wait a second.
Who does it favor? Sprinters. It’s a tad long and all the GC teams will be just stretching their legs back out after the rest day, but there is little of any climbing significance that would stop the sprint teams from reeling in the day’s break.
Why does it matter? Not sure. Cool area though.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Contactless grocery shopping. For a spell, going to the grocery store seemed like a big step, even though it wasn’t, but then we discovered that we could get someone else to go to the grocery store for us! Which actually wasn’t all that great either, because if it’s dangerous to be there, I’m not all that into using a human shield. But whatever, it was definitely a nice innovation for people who had more serious reasons not to go to the one place where you could still encounter far too many people.
Stage 11: Sorgues – Malaucène, 199km
Wednesday, July 7
What is it? Oh, just a transitional stage I guess. With an unprecedented double-climb of Mont Ventoux. Mother of all that is holy… I am not even sure what expletives to use here.
I’m staring at the map and it still doesn’t make sense. What the fuck? Like, for real? My brain has just stopped working. So now I will type out a few salient facts to try to get the neurons firing again. Did you know…
- that cyclists have been climbing Mont Ventoux for 120 years or more? The internets tell me that Adolphe Benoit made a record in 1902 of his climb and the nature of the beast, and I have to think someone else went before him.
- that the Tour has featured Ventoux in 16 stages before this year? Dating back to 1951, when the original inclusion saw Lucien Lazaridès first over the summit, although he lost the stage at the line in Avignon to Louison Bobet.
- that stages to Mont Ventoux have finished there on nine of those 16 occasions? This surprised me, being of a certain age and always thinking they’d just stop when they got to the summit, why wouldn’t they? But three times in the 1950s they continued on to Avignon, and later they’ve ended in Carpentras, Orange and most recently Chalet Reynard. Bobet, Jean Robic, Eros Poli and Thomas De Gendt are the four riders to be first over the summit and winners of the stage somewhere other than the summit.
- that there are three routes to the top of Tour quality (plus apparently some nice wooded trails)? The south route from Bedoin is the one we know and love, and before this year it was chosen for 13 of the 16 Tour ascents. It’s considered the hardest; the north approach is nearly as horrible, and has featured twice in the Tour, while the eastern route is the “easy” one, and has only occurred once before this year, when it will be the appetizer for the final climb up the Bedoin (south) side.
Who does it favor? All of us. Maybe a rider or three, although “favor” is a strong word for “not permanently crushing my spirit as badly as it did that guy.” Picking a finish line that starts with “mal” makes all kinds of sense here.
Why does it matter? Please tell me I don’t need to explain this to you. The chance of you making it this far into a Tour preview and not recognizing the importance of this stage is approaching zero.
But… is it the Queen Stage? I don’t ever really think of Mont Ventoux that way. It seems more like an entirely separate conversation, like when the Giro goes to Monte Zoncolan or the Vuelta goes to the Angliru. For my money, the Queen Stage is more like a supersized version of a normal mountain stage. But maybe if you are riding the thing, these climbs have a certain sameness in that you are hating life for hours at a time. So maybe we shouldn’t consider this ineligible for Queen Stage designation?
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Getting a pandemic puppy! This was totally a thing, and it was an excellent narrative changer for individuals and families all over the world. Like this stage, getting a puppy will induce giggling laughter, tears, joy, and some terror (at 3am when the pup is like “Let’s play!”). In the end it will go down as a wonderful, amazing, memorable thing that you probably won’t want to do ever again.
We already have a dog, and while the puppy subject came up (and could have led to some very irrational decisionmaking), we are pretty sure that our current dog Koji was a hard no on the subject. Oh, and along with pandemic puppies is the widespread practice of unsolicited dog photo sharing. Here’s Koji. He’s a Very Good Boy. Although in this picture he is rather pointedly chewing on a stuffed cat roughly the same size and color of our actual cat. His Scandinavian passive-aggressive genes are maybe a thing?
Stage 12: Saint Paul Trois Châteaux – Nîmes, 159km
Thursday, July 8
What is it? A summer vacation on wheels. The route begins by going along the Gorges de l’Ardèche, a series of spectacular canyons, before meandering around the Occitanie countryside on the way to a sprint finish in Nîmes, an ancient Roman regional capital then known as Nemausus, and sporting an aqueduct, a colosseum and a few other Roman staples for any doubters out there.
Who does it favor? I guess the sprinters will be bothered. Maybe. At this point people are starting to feel really tired, so maybe they let a group stay away.
Why does it matter? To remind you that the Tour pays attention to the Giro and the Vuelta. Those races constantly go out of their way to hit national parks and other places of tourist-level beauty, and the Tour is not to be left behind. That’s my takeaway message… because they didn’t used to do stuff like this.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Binge-watching period-drama TV. HBO’s series on Rome is from a few years ago, but was totally amazing, at least if you can stomach the violence on the premise that Rome was a pretty violent place (et tu, Brute?). Very on point here for its treatment of Gallic characters, possibly from Nemaunsus.
Stage 13: Nîmes – Carcassonne, 220km
Friday, July 9
What is it? Transitional stage. Get thee to the Pyrénées! I mean it this time!
Who does it favor? Sprinters, although at 220km, if the green jersey competition isn’t close, you could definitely see those teams letting this stage go.
Why does it matter? Its greatest importance is in getting the peloton to their hotels with a minimal amount of greenhouse gases released. Bike racing is very good for the environment! I mean, just the biking part itself, not the support vehicles, the fans, the… forget it.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Binge-watching cool shows from other countries. Why go on vacation (which isn’t an option) when you can just plunk your brain down inside the Danish parliament (Borgen) or some podunky hockey-obsessed corner of Sweden (Beartown)? Fancy a bit more intrigue? Well, the Bureau des Legendes are here to get you swept up in the dramatic, intricate, and occasionally sexy undertakings of the French secret service! The choices are too numerous to keep up with these days. Life could be worse. Remember 1980s sit-coms?
Stage 14: Carcassonne – Quillan, 184km
Saturday, July 10
What is it? A small-climb feast as the race kinda-sorta enters the Pyrénées? Let’s do a bit of geography review.
France has 18 regions, 12 within the hexagon of continental France, and six others in places such as Corsica, French Guyana, Martinique etc. Apparently there’s a term called “metropolitan France” which is the hexagon plus Corsica, e.g. Euro-France. Anyway, underneath regions are Départments, 101 in total, 95 of which are in the hexagon. (And 334 arondissements, but let’s skip that.)
The Pyrénées subsections on the French side of the border get their names from the départments. The Pyrénées fall into six different ones, so if you hear names like Pyrénées Orientales, where this stage goes, or Pyrénées Atlantique in the very southwestern corner of France, that’s what that is. Mere political nicknames. By the way, the Hautes-Pyrénées are the ones to know. On a physiographic level, people speak more of the eastern, central and Atlantic Pyrénées. That includes France, Spain and Andorra. Oh yeah, Andorra.
Anyway, the reason for all this is that the Tour hardly ever goes to this part of the Pyrénées, the last such occasion being in 2009. Enjoy the bonus climbing, I guess?
Who does it favor? The KOM comp guys. There are three cat-2s and 2 cat-3s (sigh) on this route, so it’ll be happy point hunting. Stage hunting too, as is always the case at the Tour.
Why does it matter? A lot of times, when the KOM comp consists of guys who don’t figure in the overall, days like this can create the necessary points haul that can give you a margin in Paris, assuming the big climbs left will go to the GC guys.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Binge-watching bad TV. We passed on most of Survivor and all of Lost when those shows were happening in real time. Well, nothing ever disappears now, so guess what’s waiting for you on those long winter nights when you weren’t going anywhere even under normal circumstances?
Stage 15: Céret– Andorre-La-Vieille, 191km
Sunday, July 11
What is it? The Tour de France leaves France! Just barely, as the race crosses over into Andorra for about 50km, including the race’s highest elevation (Souvenir Henri “the Assassin” Desgranges), and the stiff challenge of the Col de Beixalis (“Collada” to the locals). The Tour likes its weekend stages to be appointment viewing, and they will have pulled it off here.
Who does it favor? No mystery left, it’s all a battle for Yellow now. In the past we might have made a side note about the battle for white, as if it were a completely separate conversation, but that will either go to the guy in Yellow or one of the ones just behind him. KOM guys will be present too, since the GC guys might still be racing a bit cautiously.
Why does it matter? Gains might be pretty marginal compared to the next few days, but you can’t rule out someone throwing a real haymaker here, particularly with a rest day to recover.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Getting a pandemic kitten. Again, already covered in the feline category, but a step down from the pandemic puppy experience (in terms of commitment, if not excitement) is the pandemic kitty acquisition. Not sure but I did hear they were running low on dogs, whereas in most American cities we are never out of kittens. Oh, and as with dog photos, so too have unsolicited cat photos been more of a thing. Here is a picture of Petty Officer Esty taking the forward watch at five bells so Quartermaster Koji can have a short nap.
Stage 16: Pas de la Case – Saint-Gaudens, 169km
Tuesday, July 13
What is it? A wake-up stage after the rest day. Apparently the Tour doesn’t think too much of it, rating it as “hilly” instead of “mountains”. The possibility of a breakaway succeeding is mentioned on the Tour official website, so I guess the peloton has the official blessing to let them go.
The most notable climb is the Col du Portet-d’Aspet, which has featured 32 times and will forever be remembered to cycling fans as the place where Italian rider Fabio Casartelli suffered a deadly crash in 1995. The site of this tragedy is marked with a beautiful sculpture.
Who does it favor? At the risk of repeating myself, this race favors a breakaway and the KOM guys, at the risk of repeating myself.
Why does it matter? The action should be lightly entertaining, if somewhat of an empty stage for anyone waking up and thinking “OMG FINALLY THE TOUR IS IN THE PYRENEES!!!”
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Getting a pandemic chicken flock. Once again, we did not do this exactly. But we did get a pandemic chicken flock expansion, adding four babies to our three older hens. Obviously this is not a good idea on most levels, except for egg supplies, though even there, trust me, the financial side does not support raising your own layers. But boy are they cute! At first.
All five survived (thank you!) although one got sent away for being a rooster, a no-no in urban Seattle. Yes, Seattle has finally reached a level of sophistication that livestock limits now need to be set.
Stage 17: Muret – Saint-Lary-Soulan, 178km
Wednesday, July 14
What is it? The penultimate climbers’ stage, and the scene of a rather certain GC showdown, to some extent. The Tour being entirely decided on this stage is definitely in play. I’ll leave it to others to geek out on climbing metrics, but this final ascent, 16km averaging 8.7%, that’s a big ouchie. For reference, the supposedly deadly Bedouin ascent of Mont Ventoux is 15km at 8.8%. Given that the Col du Portet comes after another brutal grind, the 8.3% Col de Val Louron-Azet, we could actually be looking at the most challenging moment of the Tour.
Who does it favor? No mere mortals, that’s for sure.
Why does it matter? I won’t insult you by actually answering this question.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Zoom bar mitzvahs. Well, that’s on our end, but I suspect other rites of passage, religious or otherwise, found a way to carry on over the last 16 months. But I’ll stick to what I know. Bar mitzvot are a huge amount of work, years in the making, where (in the US) kids have to learn a complete foreign language written in a completely foreign script, and then basically sing the results in front of possibly every single person they know. Our youngest son had his right before the quarantine, but a lot of his friends (and of course kids around the world) were not so lucky and had to wait a while until their congregation figured out a way forward. That settled on Zoom bar mitzvot, which were very sweet, and a tremendous relief to the families who could see their child through this great moment. That’s a lot of excitement, but not sugar-high excitement; excitement earned through long hours of practice. Just like the experience for whoever wins this stage.
Stage 18: Pau – Luz Ardiden, 130km
Thursday, July 15
What is it? Your last climbing event, last place to use the words “Queen Stage” (however dubiously), and last chance for the GC guys to get whatever position they need heading into the final time trial. All of this route is well-worn territory for the Tour, from the start in Pau (making its 73d (!!) appearance), the Col du Tourmalet (88 (!!!) appearances), and Luz Ardiden (9th appearance). A classic, classic Tour stage.
Who does it favor? Can we stop doing this?
Why does it matter? Honestly, why do I make myself walk through my paces like this?
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Zoom reunions. In a weird way, the pandemic, while severely limiting the volume of my social contact, ended up increasing the breadth of it. Once all connectivity was reduced to online, the difference between a neighbor and someone who you remember from decades ago and see occasionally on facebook became meaningless. Next thing you knew, people were suggesting getting together, gatherings that were nearly impossible to pull off in meatspace before things shut down. My college newspaper did a couple gatherings, which was pretty amazing, given that it consisted of people who I’d spent so many long hours with that the familiarity we shared couldn’t disappear even after a few decades had passed. Here’s to reliving old times! And a stage that has plenty of past memories as well.
Stage 19: Mourenx – Libourne, 207km
Friday, July 16
What is it? The last transition stage, and another very familiar version of the typical ride to somewhere close to Bordeaux, vaguely in the direction of Paris, but with the dark cloud of a final ITT hanging over everyone. The course is a bit lumpy but won’t be raced by anyone besides some random adventurers and combatif prize hunters.
Who does it favor? Anyone with some juice left in their legs and no reason to save it for one more day. Not that many people, in other words.
Why does it matter? It really, really doesn’t. You could say it gives the GC guys a break before the ITT but things like this don’t matter to their bodies anymore.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Excessively gardening. Working from home means that instead of walking down to the snack machine or strolling outside my office, I can pop into the back yard and prune my tomato plants. They didn’t need it. They didn’t even really ask for it. But I am doing it anyway, because I have to, in some inexplicable way.
Stage 20: Libourne – Saint-Emilion, 30.8km ITT
Saturday, July 17
What is it? The decisive time trial. Board flat, a bit meandering in direction but not very technical, and of moderate distance.
Who does it favor? The true cronomen. If a pint-sized climber is leading this Tour and he can’t muster much of a race against the watch, look out. But if the people we think will be involved are indeed involved, then this might not upend much of the standings. Should be tense, they always seem to be nowadays.
Why does it matter? Uh… it will decide who wins the Tour? Or not.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? Not so much a lifestyle choice but a moment in time, when the vaccines started to become available and the numbers went down and you could just start to see the end of this whole thing right on the horizon. And yes, I know, there may be no absolute “end,” but when your kids go back to in-person school and the restaurants open and you can say hi to neighbors because you can actually see their face now, that was an experience. A definitive one.
Stage 21: Chatou – Paris, 108km
Sunday, July 18
What is it? The parade to Paris. Short and to the point.
Who does it favor? Everyone, to some extent. It’s time to be done.
Why does it matter? Apart from putting a bow on the Tour, the final stage sprint is very prestigious and just good clean fun.
What pandemic lifestyle choice does this stage’s excitement level resemble? The return of real cocktail parties! I’ve been to two now. I needed both of them. All is good.