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The Young, The Old And The Odd At This Year's Tour De France

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The world's foremost sporting event kicks off next week in Tokyo, just in time for the world's most prestigious bike race to end this weekend in Paris. This year's Tour de France has been marked by the domination of a young phenom from Slovenia...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: He has become the champion of the mountains and by Sunday, the champion of the Tour de France - Tadej Pogacar wins.

CHANG: ...And the re-emergence of an older rider who many had written off years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Mark Cavendish, the Manx Missile, matches Merckx's 34 wins in a Tour de France.

CHANG: Joining us now just ahead of the last stage of the race is Patrick Redford from Defector Media. Welcome.

PATRICK REDFORD: Thank you for having me on.

CHANG: Thank you for being with us. OK, so this young Slovenian is set to win the overall competition two years in a row now. Who is this guy? Tell us more about him.

REDFORD: So yeah, Tadej Pogacar. He, last year, won the Tour at 21. And so this year, he came in as the dominant favorite. And he's surpassed all expectations. He's won three stages. He's only ever looked weak at one specific point in the mountains, and he immediately caught the guy who attacked him. And he's probably going to win the time trial on Saturday. This is one of the biggest performances we've seen in the past couple decades. And he's only 22. It's quite remarkable.

CHANG: Yeah, it's amazing.

REDFORD: (Laughter) Yeah.

CHANG: And then there's Mark Cavendish. He's near-last overall. But then this year, he's won four stages, which I understand ties the all-time record, right?

REDFORD: Yeah. I mean, he hasn't won a stage since 2016. And before this Tour, he'd 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 mid-30s, you tend not to get more opportunities. So the fact that he's even at this Tour is remarkable and then the fact that his Quick-Step team has set him up for four stage wins and then the possibility of the record-breaking 35 on Sunday. And last year, I mean, the thing that stuck with me is he crossed the line for his last race in tears. And he gave this interview where he was openly weeping. And he just said, like, you know, it's been a great career, but I think this is it. I don't think anyone's going to take a chance on me. He's been the absolute story this year, I think.

CHANG: And something highly unusual - I understand an American rider actually won one day.

REDFORD: Yeah, Sepp Kuss. He's been a real - I mean, it's been since 2011 when Tyler Farrar won a sprint stage, I believe, on the Fourth of July. And Sepp Kuss has been - he's been tremendous. I mean, he's 26 years old, so some people are potentially talking him up as the next American winner of the Tour. He's looked incredibly strong. I mean, that stage he won, you know, he outran Alejandro Valverde, who's one of the most prolific winners in the entire pro peloton. So that's a very impressive way to win.

CHANG: And finally, I understand that there's a pro who actually beat everyone else to Paris by five days. What happened there?

REDFORD: Yeah, Lachlan Morton. He's this eccentric, mega talent Australian rider. So he set out for the Alt Tour, where he was going to start on Stage 1 with the peloton and ride the entire course by himself - you know, no mechanical support, no fancy - you know, doesn't get a massage after each stage like all the other guys. Except he also made it harder for himself because he was riding all the transfers between stages. So Stage 20's going to finish on Saturday, and then there's a 400-mile or so flight that everyone takes to Paris. But he rode that all himself.

CHANG: Whoa.

REDFORD: And he won by five days. It's been really special to watch.

CHANG: Dang.

REDFORD: And he rode a lot in open-toed shoes, too.

CHANG: (Laughter) Wow. Patrick Redford follows cycling for Defector. Thank you so much.

REDFORD: Thanks for having me on.

(SOUNDBITE OF KRAFTWERK SONG, "TOUR DE FRANCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.