The Champs-Elysées await, the prestige sprint finish that has encouraged several sprinters to stay in the race. It’s a day of triumph and melancholy, joy for the winner but a wistful air as the race comes to an end, but now there’s no time for the post-Tour blues as the Tour de France Femmes starts this afternoon and we’ve got an extra week of racing to savour.
Rocamadour n’ roll: of all the stages ridden in advance for the previews, this one was the most rewarding, if only for the subtle differences of the course where roads that looked straight on the map twisted more; climbs that looked tame in the roadbook had more bite than suggested and all with a sybaritic twist: just stop pedalling and a land of plenty awaited, the kind of place where lunches are long and going into the red means opening a bottle of Malbec.
Come the day and even the time trial stage was interesting to watch. With little action expected on the general classification the stage still supplied suspense for the winner. Filippo Ganna blasted Mikel Bjerg out of the hotseat and the Italian had a long spell in the lead until Wout van Aert came in and beat him by 42 seconds, over a second quicker per kilometre. Van Aert looked to have the stage sewn up then Tadej Pogačar beat him to the first time check; then Jonas Vingegaard was quicker still. Pogačar began to slow a touch. Perhaps he wanted to start first to test Vingegaard but the Slovenian still finished the stage third. There seemed to be no stopping Vingegaard with the hilly part of the course to come, the bit where you’d expect him to out-ride Van Aert. But he was slowing, just. and on the descent where he was already down on his team mate he almost lost control and took it easier after, conceding 19s to Van Aert on the line and a few seconds down to a celebration when the line was in sight.
The Route: a indoor start from the Défense Arena, an sports stadium and then it’s out to the Yveslines department west of Paris, and roads used by Paris-Nice including a passage by Versailles, before the usual procession through the suburbs and into the city then the Champs Elysées, closed for the day and a privilege normally reserved for visiting heads of state. It’s eight times across the line to hear the bell and then the sprint.
The Finish: there’s “new” finish again. For years the race would have a chicane-style bend from the Rue de Rivoli onto the Champs-Elysées and then the finish line was soon after. Last year the finish was placed 300m further along the Champs and it’s the same again now. It means a rider doesn’t have to come through the corner so close to the front but they’ll have to rattle over the cobbles for longer.
The Contenders: given the way this Tour has gone, a breakaway can always make it but as ever the route suits the sprinters’ teams as they can keep a close eye on the breakaway and there are no surprises on the course. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix) has arguably been the best sprinter in the race, but he’s been beaten to the line by others who got the jump on him. Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step) is better in a flat sprint but he’s minus Michael Mørkøv. Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) has been omitted from the picks of late because of the climbs but flat route suits. Caleb Ewan (Lotto-Soudal) really needs a win but desperation isn’t much help to him and the team today, his experience will count for more. Alberto Dainese (DSM) has had a stealthy Tour to put it kindly but third place in Cahors shows he’s resilient, something Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert) knows all about too.
Of course there’s Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) as well.
|Fabio Jakobsen, Jasper Philipsen|
|Caleb Ewan, WvA, Groenewegen|
|Dainese, Kristoff, Ganna|
TV: the Tour de France Femmes sets off with a circuit race on the Champs-Elysées and it’s on between 1.30pm CEST and 3.30pm CEST, expect a theme of pioneers that pays tribute to those who have opened the road before.
The men get going at 4.30pm and the finish is due for 7.30pm CEST.