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.