STAGE 21: Montereau-Fault-Yonne – Paris
Sunday, July 26
WHAT’S THE COURSE LIKE?
It’s not about what it’s like but about where it is. The world’s biggest bike race has to have a spectacular ending and there is nothing like the finishing circuit around the Champs Elysees.
This year the 164km final stage starts in the small town of Montereau-Fault-Yonne to the southeast of Paris. The stage profile is almost totally flat and there are no final climber’s points up for grabs.
As is tradition, the peloton will enter Paris along the banks of the Seine, with the Eiffel Tower one of the most cherished sights for the riders who have raced hard for three weeks.
The Champs Elysees actually climbs quite a bit with the turn at the top in the shadow of the Arc du Triomphe. After descending at speed down the other side of the Champs Elysees, the peloton goes along the Quai des Tuileries and then left and under the tunnel close to the Louvre.
The final kilometre is in the long straight Rue de Rivoli, with the fast corners across the Place de la Concorde and onto the Champs Elysees the key moments in the fight for position in the sprint.
Estimated finish time – 14:30 UK time
WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPPEN?
Not much racing before Paris but then the pace will grow in a crescendo before the final sprint.
The first 100km will be more about posing for photographs and toasting success. It will be interesting to see if Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong toast the Spaniard’s victory or if the tensions within the Astana team continues even with the race decided. In truth there is not much to fall out about. Contador has won again and Armstrong finished third on the podium, despite being almost 38 years of age.
The unwritten rule in the peloton is that the racing will begin with the first attack on the first lap of the Champs Elysees.
Some of the rouleurs will jump away more for fun and glory than any thoughts of success. It will be up to the sprinters’ teams and especially Mark Cavendish’s Team Columbia-HTC to keep them in check with some strong riding on the front.
Someone will take a flyer to try and win alone, perhaps even Britain’s David Millar (Garmin). It has been done in the past but the bunch usually catches them before the final corner onto the Champs Elysees.
Expect Columbia-HTC to lead out the sprint with George Hincapie and Mark Renshaw at the front in the last kilometre. Hushovd will be on Cav’s wheel, with everyone else fighting for position. It is important not to go to early in the sprint because of the slight rise of the Champs Elysees and because of the cobbled surface. If Cav hits out at 200 metres to go, nobody will get past him.
MEN TO WATCH
Mark Cavendish – The Manxster is looking for win number six and has been thinking about the Champs Elysees since the start in Monaco three weeks ago. Finishing his first Tour will be as special to him as winning the sprint.
Thor Hushovd – The big Norwegian wrapped up the green points jersey with a strong attack in the Alps and even Cavendish has admitted he deserves the green jersey. He leads Cavendish by 25 points and so has to finish inside the top 15 on the Champs Elysees, but all he has to do is follow Cavendish in the sprint to seal his second points jersey.
Tyler Farrar – The young American has tried to beat Cavendish in every sprint at the Tour but has always come up empty handed. This will be his last chance if Cavendish is a little tired or distracted.
Oscar Freire – The little Spaniard has been off the pace in the Tour sprints and will need a miracle to win. But that’s his specialty and can never be written off.
Alberto Contador – The yellow jersey shines bright on the Champs Elysees and watch for Contador celebrating victory behind the sprinters. He might even lose a few seconds but with a winning margin of four minutes, that’s not a problem.
It will be interesting to see who is the first rider to congratulate Contador. It’s a safe bet it won’t be Armstrong.
CW’S TIP TO WIN
WHO’S WEARING THE JERSEYS?
Yellow: Alberto Contador (Astana)
Green: Thor Hushovd (Cervélo)
Polka-dot: Franco Pellizotti (Liquigas)
White: Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
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