Battered sprint teams will vie for ultimate glory on the Champs Élysées in Paris on the final stage of the Tour de France on Sunday.
Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) and Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) headline the reduced field keen to take the honours on the unofficial world championship for sprinters, following a ceremonial start for now two-time British race winner Chris Froome (Sky).
The duo will race without key pilots, Greg Henderson and Mark Renshaw, who have abandoned through injury and illness, respectively. Cavendish will also surely feel the loss of Tony Martin and Michal Kwiatkowski, who have also withdrawn from this year's hot, tough Tour.
Greipel is concluding the best Tour performance of his career, marking, for the first time, a stint in the green jersey and claiming an unparalleled three stage victories.
The German has shown he can win even with a depleted lead-out, but he still has Australian Adam Hansen, who is set to finish his 12th consecutive Grand Tour despite being advised to stop racing after dislocating his shoulder in stage two.
The 33-year-old Greipel has been the fastest man of this year’s race, though how he recovers from the Alpine stages, where a medical communique reads he suffered from knee pain, remains to be seen.
Cavendish did not figure in the last sprint stage after being weakened by a bout of diahorrea the night before. Greipel won despite having previously suffered from heat stroke.
The Manxman has in the past been ample at guiding himself through a fast finish, jumping from different wheels and trains, but has mistimed efforts at this year’s race and has so far won just one stage — a low count by his exceptionally high standards.
Marcel Kittel has reigned on the Champs Elysees the past two seasons with the assistance of John Degenkolb, who will carry the hopes of the Giant-Alpecin team this season with Kittel not selected for the Tour because of health-affected fitness.
The Milan-San Remo and Paris-Roubaix champion Degenkolb is not a pure sprinter like Greipel or Cavendish but has still finished on the podium twice following bunch finishes.
The 26-year-old, when asked before the Alps, did not rule-out his chances of a stage victory on the final day of competition. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), who has had a quiet Tour after a barnstorming spring, Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and maillot vert Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) are also likely to challenge.
“I think I’m coming through the Tour quite okay and I definitely lose less energy [in the heat] than other pure sprinters, for example,” Degenkolb said. “I would love to win on Champs Elysees, this is a big dream of all of us. They’ve [Giant-Alpecin] done it the last two years and it’s such a great way to finish the Tour de France.
"When you win there, even though you’ve had already a great Tour de France before, it makes it just much more perfect.”
Watch: Mark Cavendish's Specialized S-Works Venge ViAS
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