Class Profile: Two Attacks Up the Mûr, a Dramatic Tour de France Stage

When I do rides simulating a stage of the Tour de France, they always follow a specific stage profile, but they are usually generic enough that they can be applied to a similar stage from one year to the next. They don’t always have a specific winner with specific riders. This one is different; it not only describes an actual stage from 2021, it talks about the main players in that year’s Tour, describes what happened the day before, follows the actual riders who were trying to win, and ultimately celebrates the winner of this stage. 

I created this engaging profile because the story of the young rider who won is so fun and dramatic! He’s got a famous cycling grandfather who is beloved in France: Raymond Poulidor, who sadly passed away at 83 in 2019. This was the young Mathieu van der Poel’s first Tour de France, but he was no stranger to winning bike races. He is a four-time world champion in cyclocross and is also a highly skilled mountain biker—he was a favorite to win the Tokyo Olympics mountain bike event later in 2021 but crashed spectacularly. In 2022, he announced he will only do road races to focus on the Tour but has also announced he will only race mountain bikes in 2024 to prepare for the Summer Olympics in Paris. 

Just because this stage was in 2021 doesn’t mean you can’t pull it out any time of the year. Chances are, most people in your classes don’t follow the Tour so closely that they know which individual riders won which stages and what year—but I promise that they will love this story and the ride you create for them.

I filmed this ride last year for my virtual classes. ICA Members can watch and ride along with me as I lead this class to see how I introduce the story and describe the break, attacks, and the emotional win. (You will need two devices to watch or ride along, one to play the video and hear my coaching and a separate device to play the music.)

Stage 1 (the day prior) was a horrific day at the Tour—there were two massive crashes, one of which was caused by a fan* who stuck her sign too far into the path of the riders, literally taking down almost half of the peloton. The second crash was only 10 km from the finish and was a huge pileup of bodies and bikes. Between the two crashes, four riders had to withdraw from the Tour (after only one day!) and many more showed up at the starting line of stage 2 covered in bandages. 

(*That’s a whole story in itself! This fan wanted to get her sign saying hi to her grandparents on television so she turned her back to the peloton to be in view of the motorcycle camera and stuck her sign out into the approaching riders. She was eventually arrested and then released, and charged for reckless endangerment and fined 1,200 euros. She could have spent time in prison but the Tour organizers dropped their complaint and simply warned other fans to be more aware.) 

At this second stage of the 2021 Tour de France, our protagonist Mathieu van der Poel starts off in second place, 18 seconds behind first-place rider Julian Alaphilippe of France, who is wearing the yellow jersey and would most definitely like to keep it. Toward the end of the stage, there are two passes up the 2.2 km (1.4 mi) Mûr-de-Bretagne, a famous short, steep climb often used in the Tour. By the way, mûr means “wall” in French, and to cyclists, it certainly feels like one with the first half of the climb at 8% to 12% grade, although it levels off to 3% for the second half, allowing for riders to more easily attack hard and fast to the summit. 

There are two time bonuses available for the first rider across the summit of the Mûr-de-Bretagne, 8 seconds on the first pass and 10 seconds to the stage winner (who is, obviously, the first to the summit). There are also smaller time bonuses for second and third place to the summit. This means that these bonus seconds will be subtracted from the total time of the riders who get there in first, second, and third place. Eighteen seconds is a lot of time to make up on a stage like this, but if van der Poel can be first on both passes of the Mûr, he gains 18 seconds. This would be in addition to the number of seconds he can hold off his adversaries. The only way to get into the yellow jersey is to get both of those time bonuses because this isn’t likely to be a stage that can be won by more than a few seconds. 

Now you can see the stakes and the opportunity he’s faced with!

During the class, I describe the likely chance for a breakaway group early on. Riders can decide to go with the break or not. We then go back to the peloton to focus on the rolling hills they are experiencing for the next few songs. In the eighth song, we “fast-forward” 115 km, when the peloton decides it’s time to catch the breakaway. The break managed to stay ahead for 80 km, a very impressive feat! We then focus on the most exciting part of this stage, the two ascents up the Mûr-de-Bretagne.

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