NPR’s Ailsa Chang speaks with Patrick Redford, who covers cycling and other sports for Deserter, on the main stories of the Tour de France 2021, which ends this weekend.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The world’s most important sporting event kicks off next week in Tokyo, just in time for the world’s most prestigious cycling race to end this weekend in Paris. This year’s Tour de France has been marked by the dominance of a young Slovenian phenomenon …
(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER # 1: Has become the mountain champion and on Sunday, the Tour de France champion – Tadej Pogacar wins.
CHANG: … And the resurgence of an older rider that many had dismissed years ago.
(SYNCHRONOUS SOUND OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER # 2: Mark Cavendish, Manx’s missile, equals Merckx’s 34 victories in a Tour de France.
CHANG: Joining us just before the last leg of the race is Defector Media’s Patrick Redford. Welcome.
PATRICK REDFORD: Thanks for inviting me.
CHANG: Thank you for being with us. Well, this young Slovenian is ready to win the general competition two years in a row. Who is this boy? Tell us more about him.
REDFORD: Yes, Tadej Pogacar. He, last year, won the tour at age 21. And this year, he came in as the dominant favorite. And it exceeded all expectations. He has won three stages. He’s only seemed weak at one specific point in the mountains, and he immediately caught the guy who attacked him. And I will probably win the time trial on Saturday. This is one of the most important performances we have seen in the last two decades. And he’s only 22 years old. It is quite remarkable.
CHANG: Yes, it is amazing.
REDFORD: (laughs) Yes.
CHANG: And then there’s Mark Cavendish. He is almost last in the general classification. But this year he won four stages, which I understand ties the all-time record, right?
REDFORD: Yes. I mean, he hasn’t won a stage since 2016. And before this tour, he had only won three races in the last five years. And if you’re a sprinter and you don’t win races and you’re in your 30s, you tend to have no more chances. So the fact that he’s even on this tour is remarkable and then the fact that his Quick-Step team has set him up for four stage wins and then the chance to break the 35 record on Sunday. And last year, I mean, what stuck with me is that he crossed the line from his last career in tears. And he gave this interview in which he openly cried. And he just said, you know, it’s been a great race, but I think this is it. I don’t think anyone is taking chances with me. I think it was the absolute story of this year.
CHANG: And something very unusual: I understand that an American cyclist won one day.
REDFORD: Yes, Sepp Kiss. It’s been a real, I mean, it’s been since 2011 when Tyler Farrar won a sprint stage, I think, on July 4th. And Sepp Kuss has been … has been tremendous. I mean, he’s 26, so some people might talk about him as the next American Tour winner. It looks incredibly strong. I mean, that stage that he won, you know, surpassed Alejandro Valverde, who is one of the most prolific winners in the whole peloton. So that’s a very impressive way to win.
CHANG: And finally, I understand that there is one professional who actually beat everyone else in Paris by five days. What happened there?
REDFORD: Yes, Lachlan Morton. It is this eccentric and mega talented Australian racer. So he headed to the Alt Tour, where he was going to start on Stage 1 with the peloton and go the whole tour alone, you know, no mechanical support, no fantasy, you know, he doesn’t get a massage after every stage like all the other guys. Except it also made it harder for him because he was riding all the transfers between stages. So, Stage 20 will end on Saturday, and then there’s a roughly 400-mile flight that everyone takes to Paris. But he put it all together himself.
REDFORD: And he won for five days. It was really special to see.
CHANG: Damn it.
REDFORD: And I also rode a lot with open shoes.
CHANG: (laughs) Wow. Patrick Redford is still cycling for Defector. Thank you.
REDFORD: Thanks for inviting me.
(SOUND OF KRAFTWERK’S SONG, “TOUR DE FRANCE”)
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