The Tour de France is 21 stages long: Tour de France 2020, Stages 20 & 21

They said it couldn't happen, shouldn't happen and wouldn't happen. But the Tour de France is 21 stages long, and it did happen

You can have five Grand Tours behind you, including two Tours de France. You can have finished in the top five in three of them, including victory in the most recent.

You can have the strongest team around you. With them, you can dominate day after day.

You can ride flawlessly for close to three weeks, never once look phased, stretched or vulnerable.

You can lead for eleven stages of the Tour de France, or even nineteen.

You can be one of the best time trialists in the world. You can have won eleven TT’s against the fastest testers around.

You can have a 90-95% chance of victory with the end in sight.

And you can still lose it all.

Or you can be making your Tour de France debut.

You can have little team support - even as you modestly express your gratitude for them whenever a microphone on a long pole is stuck under your chin - and lose the strongest of the few riders you have.

You can be caught out in crosswinds, and lose more than a minute on most of your rivals. You can concede more time in the toughest mountains.

You can be behind for 19 stages of the race.

You can have ridden just three time trials - outside your home national championship - in your professional career, and not come close to winning one of them.

You can be given a 5-10% chance of victory going into the last day of competition.

And you can still win.

Because the Tour de France is 21 stages long.

Yes, even in 2020, the Tour de France is 21 stages long.

For this Tour has been like no other any of us have ever experienced in our lives. The only time in the race’s history that it has taken place in September.

Many said it shouldn’t happen. Others, who might have thought it should, said it wouldn’t. When it was clear that the race was going to take place, few would have put their house on it going the distance.

How many stages would need to be completed for the result to be considered valid? How would the possibility of an interruption affect the way the participants rode? How many riders would test positive? How many teams sent home?

The first question did not require an answer; the second is still difficult to determine; to perhaps everyone’s surprise the answers to the third and fourth, is the same: none.

Because hundreds of people, if not thousands, when you add them all up, did everything they could to ensure the big show could not only go on but go on resembling as close to its usual self as possible.

Never has the “taking it day by day” cliche, regularly reeled off by riders, been more apt. Nonetheless, what was remarkable was how normal it all felt, how quickly relaxed into the old routines

By the end of the first stage we were back to complaining about the same old things we always do. The course, the caravan and the weather conditions all came in for criticism. Before week one was out we’d had our first collective whinge about a stage in which very little happened. In a year where all too much has happened you’d think we might welcome a little bit of nothing.

And the fans deserve no small amount of credit for the way they behaved, for their contribution to the race, too. We saw and heard far too many references to  “idiots” on the climbs. Sure, there were some who appeared on TV to come too close to the race while not wearing masks, but they were the tiniest of minorities. The majority of those who attended kept their distance, conducted themselves appropriately. There were no major “incidents” to speak of.

The racing was far from normal, but when it comes to the Tour de France, what does “normal” look like, anyway? It made us laugh and it made us cry. It had us screaming at our TV screens and it stunned us into silence. We got a fight for yellow, polka dots and green, fifteen different stage winners, and a grandstand finale in Paris at sunset.

Because the Tour de France is 21 stages long.

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