Three talking points from the Tour de France

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While the epic 21-day battle for the 2022 Tour de France title was eventually won by Denmark's Jonas Vingegaard, the buzz around the race has raised several topics.

Here, AFP Sport looks at three talking points, with Belgian Wout van Aert once again shining, a fast Tour de France and Covid's effect on the race all in the spotlight:

Wout van Aert: man of many talents

-- Van Aert was hailed as "the best rider in the world" by Tour de France winner and Jumbo-Visma teammate Vingegaard, while Geraint Thomas reflected that the Belgian could do whatever he wanted.

Van Aert won three stages of the 2021 Tour, taking a time-trial through Bordeaux, the sprint on the Champs Elysees and a mountain summit finish at Ventoux.

This year he targeted the green points jersey, where he scored a crushing victory.

He also acted as sherpa for Vingegaard in his crucial stage 11 and 18 triumphs in the Alps and Pyrenees, but is considered too heavily built to survive in the mountains on his own.

He came second on all of the opening three stages in Denmark and then won the fourth with a late escape on what should have been a mass bunch sprint on stage four, won stage eight in a sprint at Lausanne, and took the penultimate-stage time trial.

"He can do whatever he wants. He would need to get under 70kg," said Thomas, who won the 2018 Tour, but finished second in 2019 when arriving heavier.

Vingegaard said he doubted van Aert would endanger his one-day ability by dropping weight.

"I don't think he has ambitions to win the Tour de France, if he does I'd be happy to share the leadership with him though," said Vingegaard.

Covid and injuries

-- Some 176 riders embarked from Copenhagen on the 2022 Tour, with eight riders on each of the 22 teams. Only 135 set off on Sunday morning on the final run into Paris as a hefty 41 failed to get to the finish line.

Seventeen of those pulled out after testing positive for Covid.

Team UAE were the first to introduce single rooms for their riders, but ended up losing three of their team to Covid during the race and another just before it, isolating defending champion Tadej Pogacar.

Jumbo went further, introducing state-of-the-art Covid air filters in their bedrooms, while nearly all teams  banned handshakes, high-fives and selfies.

Is the Tour de France getting faster?

-- There are several factors concerning the speed at which a Tour de France is raced. Almost all riders come to the race in peak condition, with most teams selecting their very best riders.

The route changes every year, meaning one with a large amount of mountains may be expected to be slower.

The design and technology of bikes have advanced over the past 15 years and nutrition science over the past five.

Cooling vests, personalised beds, air filters, and single rooms rather than twin ones count for marginal gains.

But the manner in which a Tour is raced has a large impact, with recent versions offering all-rounders such as Julian Alaphilippe and van Aert a chance to break for glory too.

This has caused the rise of complete riders such as 2021 and 2021 champion Tadej Pogacar, a climber who can mix it with the one-day specialists.

The 2021 Tour was won at an average speed of 41.7 kph and 2022 at 42.02 kph.