The Spin: Stage 21

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Stage 21

Ah Paris! After three weeks of racing around rural France today’s stage is an urban criterium. The start is in Créteil, a boring suburb of Paris full of ugly tower blocks and a contrast to the elegant finishing circuit in Paris that borrows some of the most upmarket roads in the world, in particular the Champs Elysées and Rue de Rivoli.

Before the stage the riders get a transfer by plane thanks to a new sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways and they will be ferried from Paris’s Orly airport to the start zone by a fleet of coaches laid on by the organisers.

This year the route is short, the organisers have realised that it’s a parade and nobody wants to race hard for 150km. There’s a detour to pass in front of the Crédit Lyonnais corporate headquarters, a nod to the bank that has been a long standing sponsor of the yellow jersey.

Then it’s quickly onto the finishing circuit for eight passes over the finish line before the final sprint for the win. Here things really get going. The speed picks up as soon as the race reaches Paris and in time riders are giving it everything to hold wheel in front of them, particularly as the Champs Elysées are cobbled and feature an incline.

There’s also the an intermediate sprint. Fifteen points separate Mark Cavendish and José Joaquin Rojas and for the intermediate sprint there are 20-17-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 for the first fifteen riders. It comes just 35.5km from the finish. In the final sprint it’s 45-35-30-26-22-20-18-16-14-12-10-8-6-4-2 points for the first fifteen riders. You’d expect Cavendish to win the jersey but nothing’s certain in this year’s Tour.

As for the final sprint itself, it is hard to see beyond HTC-Highroad and Mark Cavendish. He’s got better as the race goes on and has won here before. Certainly it would be brave to predict an alternative winner although occasionally a late move has won the day.

Then it’s time for the final podium ceremonies with the Arc de Triomphe as a fitting background when the winner is awarded the ultimate prize in cycling, an enamel porcelain bowl made in Sèvres by the state-owned pottery company Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres. It’s a unique trophy and has no official title, except it is awarded “in the name of the Presidency of the French republic“.

All riders who finish get a medal and the right to be known as a géant de la route.

natalie July 24, 2011 at 11:07 am

I’m glad that they’ve gone for a short final stage! I always enjoy the last day antics (cheesy photos, posing, champagne) but nothing happens until the Champs Elysees so it makes sense for everyone, fans and riders alike.
Looking forward to the day!

Ankush July 24, 2011 at 11:10 am

What a Tour this has been, very special, my first properly followed too. As all the jerseys but green have been won by their fitting suitors, there’s no doubt that Mark Cavendish will write more history today for Isle of Man. The man deserves is a legend.

This Tour has also been made special by your efforts to give us a behind the scene perspective of the race, chapeau Monsieur Ring, merci beaucoup.

Rooie July 24, 2011 at 11:13 am

Funny realizing that the song of joel dassin is taped from à german tv-programme

Bomsie July 24, 2011 at 11:20 am

Yes, chapeau to you Inrng. You always write brilliantly, but your efforts on this Tour have been exceptional and great reading.

My daily first visit on the Internet has been to read your daily stage preview which sets up the day from there.

Great job on a great Tour. Thankyou.

STG July 24, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Good previews, I have enjoyed them.

Jørn July 24, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Your writing has been a fantastic read every day of the tour, I applaud your effort.
As for today’s sprint I think we could even see two HTC riders cross the finish line first. I’m thinking that the HTC train will be an overwhelming force coming into the latest two turns.

Bundle July 24, 2011 at 2:11 pm

Ok. Kindly complementing the preview for today’s last stage, here’s the list of the riders who would have made it to Paris had the time-cut been mercilessly applied in the Alps:

SAXO: Contador, Hernández and Chris Sorensen.
LEOPARD: Andy, Fränk, Monfort, Voigt and O’Grady.
EUSKALTEL: Sánchez, Verdugo, Martínez, Izaguirre and Urtasun.
OMEGA: Vanendert.
RABOBANK: Gesink, Barredo and Ten Dam.
GARMIN: Danielson, Vandevelde and Hesjedal.
ASTANA: Di Gregorio.
RADIOSHACK: Zubeldia, Leipheimer and Paulinho.
MOVISTAR: Arroyo.
LIQUIGAS: Basso and Szmyd.
AG2R: Peraud, Dupont, Bouet and Minard.
SKY: Thomas.
QUICK STEP: De Weert.
FDJ: Jaenneson and Meersman.
BMC: Evans, Morabito, Hincapie and Moinard.
COFIDIS: Taaramae.
LAMPRE: Cunego, Loosli and Bono.
HTC: Velits
EUROPCAR: Voeckler, Rolland and Charteau.
KATUSHA: Trofimov and Gusev.
VACANSOLEIL: Ruijgh, DeGendt and Hoogerland
SAUR: Coppel and Jaendesboz.

With such a small peloton, what a race today! Impossible to control!! Schleck or Voeckler could still win the Tour. Perhaps a big surprise the last day, like Jean Robic in 1947, or a great display of the best, like Hinault and Zoetemelk in 1979. Instead, we are going to have our yearly boring, predictable parade, that won’t make any new cycling fans. I, for one, will not watch.

I know that those who support riders who didn’t make the cut won’t like this comment, so I won’t bring the issue up again. But, for the sake of what was and should be the toughest race of the toughest sport, I hereby call on the Tour de France to forget commercial politicking and not to forget the spirit of Henri Desgrange. :)

Bundle July 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm

And now, big congratulations to the writer. His insight of the race and of the country, and his fluid prose, made this blog the next best thing to being the summer enjoying my favourite country and my favourite sport.

David July 24, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Can I add another massive “thankyou”, Mr Inrng. I’ve been reading this blog for a while now, and there is are good reasons for why it is my favourite cycling blog. These stage previews have been excellent. Chapeau!

Also, go Cadel!

grumpyoldman July 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm

A mine of useful information about the Tour from which I’ve learned a lot. Many thanks and bonne continuation.

LeonG July 24, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Bundle

I must say that with this in mind I would have fancied Alberto for his first stage win this tour.

rufio July 24, 2011 at 5:35 pm

@Bundle,

Perhaps it’s my American sensibilities and exposure to the sport but I simply can’t understand what you find so distasteful about today’s final stage. Criterium racing is fast, violent, and tactical; add to that the magnificent setting (no office park here) and you have 48 very exciting kilometers of racing. They yellow jersey is decided, why not watch the fastest riders in the world battle it out on the streets of Paris?

Nath July 24, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Bundle, if there was no reinstatement, they’d have to make the cut-offs different. And they would. Remember there is a points deduction so the jersey that the guys in the auto bus/grupetto are fighting for is still at risk.

It’s not all about gc.

LeonG July 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Waiting for next year’s edition is always difficult.

Vicky, Greece July 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Thank you INRNG !!!!

Bundle July 25, 2011 at 12:03 am

@rufio and nath: your comments deserve a whole an article in response, but it would be too long, and I don’t think it’s in the spirit of this blog to become a discussion forum (am I right, dear Inrng?). Still:

1) Although I ask myself what happened to the old popularity of track cycling events in the US, and why, no problem in principle with a little criterium in Paris, between those heroes who survived all those inhuman stages. I used to like the last stage: the yellow jersey would traditionally try to reiterate his supremacy by winning it (Merckx and Hinault even succeeded), but that was only possible because the sprinters had been either eliminated or completely worn out, and there was no such thing as a whole team preparing the sprint for its “star”. And yet, as a mere tribute to those survival heroes, this “criterium” could be worth watching. This year, it would have been real fun to see a “criterium” between the 55 listed above, but…
2) The time-cut “reinstatement” was absolutely unjustified. There was no reason, no incident, nothing, even the sun was shining. Those who were late were either too weak, too lazy, or (worst) were economizing energies for the last two stages. Tony Martin’s case, I’m sorry, is unacceptable. The guy sure can climb, but it suited him to spare himself for the TT, and to “swell the bunch” so that teammate Cav wouldn’t be sent home. In the Giro 2003, some 40 riders were sent home for being, by seconds, “hors-délais”, under a freezing storm in a mountain stage, and that included points classification leader Petacchi, a local favourite. Coherence, please.

Not to elaborate further, but the time-cut always existed, and it was actually made tighter in 1950, for a good reason: to make the arrival in Paris more demanding (and more deserving of the prize-money all the finishers get), and to prevent riders from “reserving their energies for specific stages”. I think the smaller the number of riders who make it home, the greater, the more epical the Grand Tour. I already said that Contador would have probably won at Alpe d’Huez and Andy Schleck possibly won the Tour, had Europcar and Liquigas been decimated as deserved. I stop here. I guess our host would want me to. :)

I think the bottom-line is simply that the Tour is becoming progressively softer and sissier, generating histrionic “stars” instead of tough heroic performances, and this needs to be said.

beth July 25, 2011 at 3:23 am

Wow, did you hear that? “the Tour is becoming progressively softer and sissier” That doesn’t describe the race I just watched. Amazing that we can all watch the same race and walk away with totally unique takes on what just happened. But I cringe when I start reading the word Sissy on this blogsite. I come to this website to get away from that kind of attitude.

Bundle July 25, 2011 at 8:15 am

@beth: no need to cringe. I don’t know your time perspective, but compared to the 1970s or 80s: the stages are way, way shorter, there is less mountain and less TT. Less attacks and closer to the finish (although this year we had a nice comeback of long-distance assaults). The roads are much better, and so are the bikes, and the rest of the material, with heart-rate monitors and power measurements. I think these are facts. The only thing that has perhaps become tougher is, unfortunately, first-week crashing.
Going further back in time, have you ever heard the story of Eugène Christophe, who had to weld his fork himself, at a blacksmith’s shop, in Sainte-Marie de Campan on the Tourmalet climb?

grumpyoldman July 25, 2011 at 8:34 am

Bundle: May I respectfully suggest that you re-read your previous posting, and try to understand why some people, both male and female, might be a tad uncomfortable with the word “sissier”.

Bundle July 25, 2011 at 8:45 am

@grumpoldman: you certainly may. I would edit it if I could, and say sweetened or softened, as I wanted to discuss cycling and not gender issues or stereotypes. I think the word could be “Schlecked”: that might capture the concept. ;

grumpyoldman July 25, 2011 at 9:37 am

@Bundle: Thanks for that.

I think we’d both agree that the Tour is about courage, heroism, and comradeship, and that these are moral qualities that aren’t gender-bound.

The only reason why women can’t compete with men in this and other disciplines is that they don’t have large amounts of (naturally occurring) testosterone coursing through their veins. Natural selection has decreed otherwise.

And I’d agree with you that in some ways, the Tour is marginally less brutal than in days gone by. I’m reminded of Octave Lapize as quoted in Wikipedia thus:

“He is noted for looking at some Tour officials on the climb of the Col du Tourmalet in the 1910 Tour de France and yelling, “Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!’ (French for ‘You are murderers! Yes, murderers!’)”[1] The stage in question was 326 kilometers in length, featured 7 brutal climbs, and was raced on unsealed roads with single-gear bicycles.”

You clearly have reservations about Cav in the maillot vert. One of the reasons I don’t is because Britain needs heroes to get kids off their backsides and into sport, and if Cav’s exploits encourage more kids to get into the saddle, that will be a good thing.

Bundle July 26, 2011 at 2:22 am

@grumpyoldman: if it’s about encouraging British lads, I’d rather show them videos of the greatest British rider ever, Robert Millar.

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