Star performers at the Tour de France

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After the Tour de France wound up in Paris on Sunday, AFP Sport takes a brief look at some of the stars that lit up the 2021 edition.

Tadej Pogacar

-- A calm, articulate athlete who describes himself as "a good boy from a good family taking no short cuts in life", UAE Emirates rider Pogacar is also a boy in a hurry. Two Tour de France wins at the tender age of 22 says it all. Beneath the boy-scout charm is an iron-willed and stone-hearted winner who crucially has pulverised rivals even when isolated from his teammates. There were two joyous mountain pass wins where his victory was built and he produced the disciplined pacing required on the lonely individual time-trials where his triumph was sealed.

Wout van Aert

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The one-day specialist van Aert, who rides for Jumbo Visma, emerges from this Tour covered in glory and a burgeoning reputation as a complete rider having won Mont Ventoux, the so-called Giant of Provence, billed as the toughest stage of the race, a long time-trial run through the Saint-Emilion vineyards and a mass bunch sprint on the Champs-Elysees. He now heads to the Olympic Games in Tokyo. "I'll try to win the gold medal there, but right now I'm overwhelmed with what I've done here."

Mark Cavendish

-- The comeback story of the 2021 Tour de France without a doubt, Deceuninck Quick-Step's Cavendish came into the race on a five-year barren run and with few or no believers. The 36-year-old leaves it having produced a series of towering sprints that enabled him to equal Eddy Merckx's 46-year-old record tally of 34 stage wins and claim the green points jersey. The first of his four wins drew on his wealth of experience at Fougeres and culminated with him weeping with relief. Unburdened by self-doubt, he then basked in an ongoing Indian summer even if he missed out on a fifth win on the Champs-Elysees.

Mathieu van Der Poel

-- Only a man hellbent on settling his grandfather's debt with destiny could have pulled off Mathieu van der Poel's win on the Mur de Bretagne on stage two. Grandson of the recently deceased Tour legend Frenchman Raymond Poulidor, the Dutch rider had vowed to claim the yellow jersey that eluded Poulidor throughout his own storied career. The all-or-nothing 'VDP' caught a glimpse of an unlikely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Alpecin-Fenix rider picked up double bonus points on the steep Mur and pushed himself beyond the limit with a Herculean effort to rip the yellow jersey from Julian Alaphilippe's back.

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