The conclusion of the 2016 Tour de France. The final stage is part victory parade, part criterium as the Champs Elysées are reserved for the riders, a privilege only accorded to cyclists and visiting heads of state.
Stage 21 Review: one race for the price of two. There was a good battle for the stage win while most of the overall contenders sat tight with only marginal figures of Joaquim Rodriguez and Roman Kreuziger launching moves to climb into the top-10 at the expense of Bauke Mollema and Fabio Aru. Earlier Ag2r La Mondiale did try to up the pace on the Col de la Ramaz but saw Chris Froome was not in difficulty and nobody else moved on the Joux Plane except for Fabio Aru who went backwards, frozen and hypoglycaemic. Dan Martin’s surge through the streets of Morzine summed up a lot of the stage: he was worried about defending his ninth place and had to hurry up in case Kreuziger pipped him.
The real contest was for the stage win after a giant breakaway of 37 riders formed on the lower slopes of the Col des Aravis and from this Ion Izagirre took the win ahead of Jarlinson Pantano, Vincenzo Nibali and Julian Alaphilippe, all coming in separately after a dicey descent down the Joux Plane.
The Route: an elegant start in Chantilly, a quick traverse of the dormitory towns and Parisian suburbs and then the glory of the Champs Elysées and eight laps. As ever there’s a slight rise to the road and it’s cobbled, the urban variety of pavé but enough to make it that bit harder. After weeks touring rural France here is the capital’s seal of approval.
The Scenario: a sprint finish. The intermediate point and the finish line have time bonuses in case Louis Meintjes wants to overhaul Joaquim Rodriguez, the Spaniard is ahead on GC by 0.41 seconds, the two time trial trial stages being timed to the nearest 100th of a second. For all the demob mentality this is still a race and anyone can attack as they wish but this flat and repetitive circuit means an ambush is somewhere between unthinkable and impossible. Still, in case you’re wondering results can and have changed, for example in 2005 a late attack by Alexander Vinokourov saw him move up to fifth overall at the expense of Levi Leipheimer. It should all end in a sprint, so many teams are still chasing a win that their hopes are invested in their sprinters today.
The Contenders: it might be the unofficial sprinters world championships but it’s also a bumper consolation prize, the Sans Cavendish sprint. So many sprinters saw their trains derailed and their plans ruined that it’s hard to know who to pick in the absence of Cavendish. Marcel Kittel is the prime pick based on his results and a strong team. Etixx-Quickstep have made a mess of their leadout at times but this time there are no surprises with the course today.
André Greipel was the star of the sprints last year and had a great Giro this year before quitting the race prematurely to prepare for the Tour only to have poor three weeks so far, this is his last chance.
Alexander Kristoff is the freshness pick, while other sprinters fade away the Norwegian ogre seems to maintain his level and we saw him twice come close to a result in the second half of the race.
Will Peter Sagan have a go? Why not but this finish isn’t perfect for him and if he’s contested the sprints along the way it’s partly been to amass points and he’s found others have higher top-end speed. Besides he must be fatigued after yesterday’s breakaway efforts.
Bryan Coquard was a surprise second here last year but in part because of a few lucky moves and surfing the slipstreams, this is not an ideal finish for him. Dylan Groenewegen looked so promising at the Dutch championships but hasn’t delivered this month, regardless of today he’s had a big learning experience on his way to finishing his first grand tour. John Degenkolb would be a popular winner and if that finger splint means changing gears and braking are hard none of that are needed in the sprint today. Dan McLay been Fortuneo-Vital Concept’s most visible rider but used up so much energy trying to keep the broom wagon at bay that he won’t have much zip in his legs. Lastly if you believe in miracles than Sam Bennett has been hauling himself around France for weeks after injury at the start of the race to the point where he’s better now but how tired must he be?
|Alexander Kristoff, André Greipel|
|Sagan, Coquard, Degenkolb, Groenewegen, Bennett|
Weather: warm and sunny with a top temperature of 28°C and a slight 10km/h headwind in the finishing straight.
TV: the whole stage is live on TV from start to finish and the end is forecast for 7.15pm Euro time or two hours later than usual.
La Course: the women’s criterium is on from 1.15pm to 3.15pm. The Ella website has an expert preview to read. It’s great to see many of the best women’s riders getting media attention, the Champs Elysées and a decent prize list but it’d be exponentially better if they could lap the Champs Elysées as the final stage after several days of televised racing elsewhere or use les Champs as an opening criterium or prologue for a stage race.