The Tour de France provides the biggest stage in pro cycling. The household names enter the Tour with heavy expectations weighing them down, but other riders enter with a free card and no pressure. As the race evolves and changes with each stage that ticks by, those up and coming rider may find opportunities to show what they are truly capable of.
Who are the breakout riders who have grabbed their opportunity at the 2021 Tour de France?
Franck Bonnamour climbs the Col de Beixalis (Image credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images)
No one would have blamed you for not knowing anything about Franck Bonnamour prior to the Tour de France. Riding for B&B Hotels, Bonnamour was entering his first Grand Tour at the age of 26 having never won a professional bike race.
Although that fact hasn’t changed, Bonnamour has been B&B Hotel’s most prevalent rider by far — no mean feat in a team which started the race with names like Pierre Rolland and Bryan Coquard in their ranks. Bonnamour has been ever-present in the breakaways where has achieved four top-10 finishes, including on the brutal climb to Tignes prior to the first rest day. Another impressive performance arrived on stage 16 which was won by Patrick Konrad, where Bonnamour was fifth again.
Bonnamour, who was signed from Arkéa Samsic, has proven himself as a strong rider capable of performing well on various terrains. He can tackle the big mountains, but also possesses a strong kick on shorter climbs and sprint finishes. If he continues to grow, it's only a matter of time before Bonnamour picks up his first pro win, even if it isn't at the 2021 Tour de France.
Image credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images
If the cycling season ended in April, Alexey Lutsenko would be among the most dominant cyclists in the pro peloton. The Kazak is often a serial winner in the first few races of the season — he’s a two-time winner of the Tour of Oman and he finished on the podium of the UAE Tour and the Tour de la Provence last season.
It was surprising, then, when Lutsenko was entirely uncompetitive in February and March this season. He finally discovered his best form at the Criterium du Dauphine in June, where he won the individual time trial and finished second overall, only beaten by Richie Porte. It was perfectly timed for the Tour de France.
Lutsenko has been a quality rider for a few years now, but he has never excelled as a general classification rider over three weeks. Lutsenko’s best position at a Grand Tour previously was 19th, which he achieved at the 2019 Tour de France, and aside from that his best GC spot was 46th. Lutsenko has targeted the general classification this year and following the final mountains, he finds himself in a highly respectable 7th place.
For the first time in his career, Lutsenko has proven that he is capable of performing consistently over three weeks, making him one of our breakout riders.
Image credit: A.S.O./Charly Lopez
Patrick Konrad is an established WorldTour rider, known for his stage-racing and climbing ability. The Austrian has achieved two top-10 finishes overall at the Giro d’Italia in his career. However, prior to the Tour de France, Konrad had never won a professional race bar his home national championships.
That all looked set to change on stage 14, where Konrad joined a powerful breakaway featuring the likes of Bauke Mollema, Omar Fraile and Mike Woods. However, Mollema escaped early and was never caught again. Konrad would be left disappointed, even though he was the best of the rest, finishing second ahead of Sergio Higuita in a sprint.
Konrad would only need to wait a few days more before his next opportunity, and he wouldn't make the same mistake again. The Austrian was by far the most aggressive rider on stage 16, attacking the rest of the breakaway on numerous occasions before carrying out the decisive attack on the Col de Portet d’Aspet. He would ride alone for more than 40km before being able to lift his arms aloft to win the first WorldTour race of his career.
After the stage, Konrad said, “I was already three times in the break, but always waiting until the final chance. It is not always a good decision to go early but I gave it a try and I am happy that I had the legs to get to the finish.”
The peloton knew Konrad was a capable rider, but his tactical approach to racing in breakaways has refined as the Tour de France has progressed. We are sure this won't be the final WorldTour win of Patrick Konrad's career.
Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
Harry Sweeny is not only making his Grand Tour debut at the Tour de France this year, he’s also in his neo-pro season. The 23-year-old had performed admirably to finish 30th on the stage 5 time trial, but his moment in the spotlight arrived on stage 12.
Sweeny joined the breakaway after a fierce start to the stage, and it quickly became apparent that stage victory would come from the group. Stefan Küng and Julian Alaphilippe were just some of the big names present. The breakaway split with just under 40km to go though, and Sweeny found himself in elite company with a genuine chance at winning a Tour de France stage on race debut.
The Australian showed courage and confidence to attack on the final ascent which dropped Küng. Ultimately, Sweeny finished third behind Nils Politt who had escaped solo. Nonetheless, it was a fine performance from a rider who had only started two WorldTour level stage races prior to the Tour. Sweeny is one to watch out for as his promising career progresses.
Jonas Vingegaard climbs Mont Ventoux (Image credit: Michael Steele/Getty Images)
Jumbo-Visma’s race was turned on its head when Primož Roglič crashed just three days in. Roglič would later leave the Tour de France after he was unable to recover from his injuries, which has paved the way for Jonas Vingegaard to show just how good he is.
Prior to the Tour de France, Vingegaard had won a mountaintop finish at the UAE Tour and the overall classification at the Coppi e Bartali in 2021. His stock was on the rise, but it has now skyrocketed.
Throughout both the Alps and the Pyrenees, Vingegaard has been on stellar form, growing into his leadership role as the race has progressed. The Dane was the only rider able to drop Tadej Pogačar at any stage in the mountains when he accelerated away from him on Mont Ventoux. Ultimately, that foray up the road came to nothing as he was caught on the following descent, but it was a statement of intent.
Vingegaard isn’t just a climber, he is a well-rounded stage racer with strong powers of recovery and exceptional ability on the time trial bike — he was third on stage 5, only beaten by Stefan Küng and Tadej Pogačar. Vingegaard is on his way to second-place in the general classification — a sublime performance for a rider competing in just his second Grand Tour and first Tour de France.
Cover image: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet