Three talking points from the Tour de France

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Beyond the human element of riders sacrificing themselves in the peloton. The Tour de France’s audience appeal is its stunning backdrops. (Photo: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet)
Beyond the human element of riders sacrificing themselves in the peloton. The Tour de France’s audience appeal is its stunning backdrops. (Photo: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet)
  • How fast was the 2022 Tour de France, compared to last year? Did the peloton do better, despite extreme heat on route?
  • The Tour de France attrition rate was severe. As usual. With Covid tests forcing some riders home.
  • Some teams took extraordinary measures to ensure their riders remained in peak conditions, throughout the event.

Paris, July 25, 2022 (AFP) -While the epic 21-day battle for the 2022 Tour de France title was eventually won by Denmark's Jonas Vingegaard, the buzz around the race has raised several topics.

Here, AFP Sport looks at three talking points, with Belgian Wout van Aert once again shining, a fast Tour de France and Covid's effect on the race.

Wout van Aert: man of many talents

Van Aert was hailed as "the best rider in the world" by Tour de France winner and Jumbo-Visma teammate Vingegaard, while Geraint Thomas reflected that the Belgian could do whatever he wanted.

The Belgian won three stages of the 2021 Tour, taking a time-trial through Bordeaux, the sprint on the Champs Elysees and a mountain summit finish at Ventoux.

This year he targeted the green points jersey, where he scored a crushing victory.

He also acted as sherpa for Vingegaard in his crucial stage 11 and 18 triumphs in the Alps and Pyrenees, but is considered too heavily built to survive in the mountains on his own.

Tour de France
Regarded by some as the best rider, could 2023 be the Belgian’s year? (Photo: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet)

Will he go lighter?

Van Aert came second on all of the opening three stages in Denmark and then won the fourth with a late escape on what should have been a mass bunch sprint on stage four, won stage eight in a sprint at Lausanne, and took the penultimate-stage time trial.

"He can do whatever he wants. He would need to get under 70kg," said Thomas, who won the 2018 Tour, but finished second in 2019 when arriving heavier.

Vingegaard said he doubted van Aert would endanger his one-day ability by dropping weight.

"I don't think he has ambitions to win the Tour de France, if he does I'd be happy to share the leadership with him though," said Vingegaard.

Tour de France
The new champion and his teammates, lapping Paris. (Photo: A.S.O./J Gruber)

Covid and injuries

Some 176 riders embarked from Copenhagen on the 2022 Tour, with eight riders on each of the 22 teams. Only 135 set off on Sunday morning on the final run into Paris as a hefty 41 failed to get to the finish line.

Seventeen of those pulled out after testing positive for Covid.

Team UAE were the first to introduce single rooms for their riders, but ended up losing three of their team to Covid during the race and another just before it, isolating defending champion Tadej Pogacar.

Jumbo went further, introducing state-of-the-art Covid air filters in their bedrooms, while nearly all teams banned handshakes, high-fives and selfies.

Tour de France
Aero helmets and visors are some of the technologies helping to make the peloton ride faster. (Photo: A.S.O./Charly Lopez)

Is the Tour de France getting faster?

There are several factors concerning the speed at which a Tour de France is raced. Almost all riders come to the race in peak condition, with most teams selecting their very best riders.

The route changes every year, meaning one with a large amount of mountains may be expected to be slower. Frame design and component technology have advanced over the past 15 years. Not to mention nutritional science. Cooling vests, personalised beds, air filters, and single rooms rather than twin ones count for marginal gains.

But the manner in which a Tour is raced has a large impact, with recent versions offering all-rounders such as Julian Alaphilippe and van Aert a chance to break for glory too. This has caused the rise of complete riders such as 2021 and 2021 champion Tadej Pogacar, a climber who can mix it with the one-day specialists.

The 2021 Tour was won at an average speed of 41.7 kph and 2022 at 42.02 kph.

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