Dylan Groenewegen claims a surprise victory
So it was something of a surprise to see Dylan Groenewegen (LottoNL-Jumbo) come out on top today.
The Dutch rider has improved gradually as the Tour has progressed, building upon a trio of top sixes in the first week of the race with a third place in Bergerac and second in Pau, and capped it off with the first Grand Tour stage of his career.
More surprising still was the manner in which he pulled off the win. He did well to shove Alexander Kristoff off the wheel of his Katusha lead-out man ahead of the final corner, but seemed to hit the front far too early on the finishing straight.
However, he managed to grind his way to the finish line without diminishing, retaining a pace high enough for any other rider to emerge from his slipstream and pass him.
Having shown potential for years, this is the result that proved Groenewegen’s talent. Aged just 24, he looks set to be a mainstay in future sprints of the Tour.
André Greipel’s streak is over
One of the most familiar stats mentioned at the Tour has been André Greipel’s record of having won a stage in each of his six previous Tour appearances, and in all of the last twelve Grand Tours he has ridden.
That record was placed under further jeopardy with each stage he failed to win this year, and at last came to an end when he failed to come around Dylan Groenewegen in the Tour’s final sprint.
Despite having not been in the mix for stage wins since posting three third place finishes in the opening week’s sprint finishes, the German did appear to have very good legs on the Champs Élysées, a stage he won both in 2015 and 2016.
But he vicious acceleration to the line was mistimed – had he made his move just a fraction of a second earlier, he might now have been celebrating an extension of his streak to seven Tours.
Thomas Voeckler and Haimar Zubeldia bid farewell
The Champs Élysées is often the arena where the Tour bids farewell to its most respected stars, and this year it was Thomas Voeckler’s turn to enjoy a hero’s send-off as he completed his fifteenth and final Tour.
The Frenchman has been one of the stars and most recognisable characters of the race over the past decade or so, thanks to his relentlessly aggressive racing, inimitable theatrics on the bike, and two extraordinary and unexpected long stints in the yellow jersey at the 2004 and 2011 races.
Rather uncharacteristically his was a rather understated farewell, without even the expected token attack. Instead, he opted on the final lap to drop off the back of the peloton and offer a wave to an appreciative audience.
The understated exit of Haimar Zubeldia (Trek-Segafredo), who was also riding his final Tour, felt rather more befitting for a rider famous for his stealth.
Aged 40, this was the Spaniard’s sixteenth Tour, with top 10 overall finishes achieved on five occasions.
No Mikel Landa attack
With just one second separating Mikel Landa (Sky) from Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) on the GC, there was speculation overnight that Landa might attempt to attack the Frenchman and leapfrog onto the podium.
It would have been an unlikely move given the flat parcours and ceremonial nature of this stage, but not unprecedented.
In 2005, Alexander Vinokourov made a late attack to both win the stage, and climb from sixth to fifth overall.
Such a move was always unlikely, however, and Team Sky maintained that they held no such intentions.
In fact, Landa even appeared to make fun of the whole situation when he went off the front of the peloton with a pretend attack during the frivolous early section of the stage.
He’ll still undoubtedly be disappointed at losing out on the podium by such a fine margin, however, and we can expect to see him back to avenge that loss in future Grand Tours.
Fun and games on the Tour’s party day
The final day of the Tour de France is unlike any other in professional cycling. While the second half may be an intense battle among the sprinters to win what has been referred to as their ‘world championships’, the first half of the race is, essentially, party time.
Having seen the riders put themselves through such physical torture over the past three weeks, it was rewarding to see them able to relax and enjoy a joke or two on the run-in to Paris.
Yoann Offredo (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) was able to dismount and say hello to some familiar faces at the roadside.
And Cyril Gautier (Ag2r-La Mondiale) even took the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend over the camera.
Still no news as to her answer, but the crude, torn-up page from the roadbook he opted to write the message on may not play in his favour.