Stage 20: Rambouillet to Paris Champs-Élysées, 120km
Mark Cavendish (Sky) took his fourth consecutive victory on the Champs-Élysées, although after the traditional final stage frolicking finished, a determined breakaway didn’t make it easy for the world champion.
Almost as soon as the peloton hit the famous boulevard the first attacks went away, with the first real selection containing 11 riders – Rui Costa (Movistar), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Sebastien Minard (AG2R-La Mondiale), Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol), Maxim Iglinsky (Astana), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Jean-Marc Marino (Saur-Sojasun), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Bram Tankink (Rabobank) and Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Katusha). They quickly organised themselves into a line, sharing the pacemaking evenly. A gap of over 20 seconds was opened up, with no one looking overly intent on helping Sky’s Christian Knees on the front of the peloton.
With three laps remaining, the gap stayed above 20 seconds, but appeared to be falling rather rapidly. All of a sudden, the oldest man in the race – Jens Voigt – attacked out of the front, accompanied by Minard and Costa. As the rest of the break disintegrated and slotted back into the single-file peloton, the plucky lead trio started to make life hard for the sprinters’ teams behind.
However, it wasn’t enough. As the final circuit of the Champs-Élysées started the break were desperately clinging to their ever-decreasing advantage, with Liquigas and Saxo Bank aiding the chase behind. With 2½km to go, it was all back together – a sprint was inevitable.
Sky lined up perfectly. Mick Rogers headed the bunch, peeling away with yellow jersey Bradley Wiggins, Edvald Boasson Hagen and then Cavendish behind. Surely, the Manx Missile wouldn’t misfire. He didn’t. Despite Saxo Bank and Orica-GreenEDGE doing their best to disrupt Sky’s train, Cavendish opted for an early burst of speed as he rounded the final corner with some 350 metres to the line. It was more than enough to see him take yet another win on the final stage of the Tour de France, with Liquigas’ Peter Sagan squeezed out wide inside the final few hundred metres.
VeloVoices rider of the day
A slightly odd choice, perhaps, but I am going to award the coveted rider of the day award to Sky’s Christian Knees. The former German national champion has been one of the unsung heroes of Wiggins’ team, endlessly tapping out the rhythm on the front of the peloton throughout the race – and doing the same again today. His chasing was important in catching a stubborn breakaway, and without which the bunch sprint might never have occurred.
Cycling is a sport full of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct, and after ‘Tack-gate’ earlier on in the Tour, there was another demonstration today. Riding his final ever Tour de France, BMC’s George Hincapie was allowed to ride on the front of the peloton for the first circuit of the Champs – an honour usually reserved for the team of the maillot jaune. Hincapie wasn’t able to get himself into the day’s breakaway, but I’m sure he’ll never forget the sensation of tearing down the boulevard for the final time.
It was interesting to see Sax0 Bank with a full lead-out train for J J Haedo near the end of the stage, with their Argentinian sprinter eventually finishing in fourth place. They have been relatively anonymous in other bunch sprints throughout the Tour, so to pop up and finish highly will be a pleasant surprise for Bjarne Riis’ outfit.
On the flip-side, Lotto-Belisol had a miserable day, with Andre Greipel only finishing eighth. Still, at least they can console themselves with having won three times during this Tour, unlike Orica-GreenEDGE who haven’t taken a single stage. Matthew Goss was second today, and is looking increasingly like he will be a perennial runner-up.
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The first Tour de France both started and finished just outside of Paris. Its conclusion was at the Restaurant Pere Auto in Ville d’Avray, south-west of the capital. The peloton then rode to Parc des Princes for a lap of honour. The race finished in the Parc every year thereafter until 1967 when it was demolished. From 1968 until 1974, it ended at the Bois de Vincennes velodrome while every subsequent edition has finished on the famous cobbled Champs Élysées in Paris. Making Paris – in Tour terms – the hostess with the mostest!
Valery Giscard d’Estaing, the French president back in 1975, granted permission for the Champs Élysées to host the final stage of that year’s Tour which concluded with 25 laps of a circuit. Since 1978, the final stage has started outside the city with riders completing six or eight laps in the city. In 2003, the Tour’s centenary, it was ten laps.
Tour de France 1934
Antonin Magne (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)
So let’s dip into the archives again and look at some of the more memorable Tours, starting with 1934 which was dominated by 1931 winner Antonin Magne – wearer of the yellow jersey for the entire race. Indeed, the French had the sort of Tour they can now only dream about – winning most of the stages. Indeed, every member of the French team won at least one stage.
The Tour was also memorable because of the sacrifice of 20-year old Rene Vietto from Cannes, winner of the mountains classification and fifth overall, who gave up his own chances of Tour victory by giving first his front wheel and later his bicycle to his team captain Magne. Vietto had been persuaded to take up racing by none other than Alfredo Binda but, despite a successful career, he never won a Tour. There’s a memorial to him at the top of the Col de Braus in Nice.
The Tour’s final stage, 221km from Caen to Paris was won by the Belgian Sylvere Maes, who went on to win the 1936 edition of the Tour after the 1935 edition had been won by Belgian Romain Maes – no relative. It’s the one and only time the Tour has been won in consecutive years by different riders with the same surname.
1934 saw the introduction of the split stage and the individual time trial. Stage 21 was split into two parts, and the second part was an individual time trial, the first in the Tour’s history. Previous ones had been team time trials. In addition, changes were made to the bonification (points added or seconds deducted) system. A stage winner received 90 seconds bonification, and the runner-up 45 seconds. Plus the stage winner received a bonification equal to the difference between him and the second-placed cyclist, up to a maximum of two minutes. A similar system was applied on mountain summits counting towards the king of the mountains classification. Also, the number of touriste-routiers, cyclists competing in a French regional rather than a national team, was reduced to 20.
Tour de France 1960
Roger Riviere (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)
The 1960 Tour de France was notable for the absence of one Jacques Anquetil who was exhausted from riding in and winning the Giro d’Italia, so Roger Riviere was that year’s favourite for the win. Teammate Henry Anglade, runner-up from 1959, took the lead on stage four and expected to become the new team leader. But Riviere was having none of it and attacked on the sixth stage despite pleas from team management to desist. As a result, Jan Adriaensens took over the leader’s jersey with Anglade saying that was where the French lost the Tour.
Gastone Nencini took the overall lead in the mountains, meaning Riviere, now in second place, would only need to keep pace with the Italian as, with his superior time-trialling skills, he could take back time on the crucial stage 19. Trying to stay in touch, plummeting down the Col de Perjuret on stage 14, Riviere missed a corner and fell 20 metres down a ravine – Tour and career over. Nencini went on to win the 1960 Tour de France. The final stage, 200km from Troyes to Paris was won by Frenchman Jean Graczyk who also took home the points jersey and overall combativity prize. Graczyck’s nickname was Popof, believed by some to derive from his habit of attacking alone, or ‘popping off’. However, it’s much more likely that this was a reference to his origins as Popov is French slang for someone of Polish background.
1960’s Tour wasn’t immune from changes either, as it saw the introduction of stage transfers, with a train trip from Bordeaux to Mont de Marsan after stage nine. Previously, the organisers had tried to keep the stage finish and the next day’s stage start as close together as possible. The German team, in exile since 1938, were once again allowed to join the Tour, run on the national team format with major nations – France, Spain, Belgium and Italy – having teams of 14 cyclists plus smaller nations and regional teams with eight riders.
Tour de France 1974
Eddy Merckx (image courtesy of Cycling Archives)
We can’t talk Tours without mention of Eddy Merckx who, in the 1974 Tour, was attempting to win his fifth Tour in as many races. He’d been absent in 1973 after winning four Tours in a row and had returned this year with wins in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de Suisse under his belt.
Despite the absence of a couple of leading lights, Merckx didn’t initially have it all his own way and the race leadership changed on an almost daily basis in the first week until Merckx, battering the others into submission, took control of the jersey after winning stage seven and hung onto it, equaling Anquetil’s record of five Tour wins. He won the final stage from Orleans to Paris, setting the record for most stage wins – 32. He subsequently increased this to 34. He was also awarded the combativity prize. Having won the Giro and Tour, Merckx completed cycling’s holy trinity by winning the 1974 world championships, a feat equalled in 1987 by Ireland’s Stephen Roche.
1974 Tour runner-up was the evergreen 38-year old Raymond Poulidor who’d held his own in the mountains and even won two stages. Winner of the intermediate sprints prize was Britain’s Barry Hoban – a taster of things to come.
There were a couple of notable incidents in the Tour. One rider forgot to go to doping control, was given a ten-minute penalty and lost his second place overall. The other cyclists threatened to strike and the penalty was removed: that’s peloton power for you. In the Pyrenees, Basque separatists placed bombs on press and team cars. Nobody was injured but the cyclists were scared, particularly Spanish national champion, Vicente Lopez – third overall – who wouldn’t wear his national jersey for fear of becoming a target.
The Tour also made its first, largely anonymous and unpopular – with the riders – incursion onto English soil with a circuit stage on the Plympton bypass, near Plymouth. The Daily Mirror proclaimed ‘Can 40 million Frenchmen be wrong?’ The answer back then was a resounding affirmative. Not now though!
Tour de France 1987
To cap off our trip down Paris’s memory lanes [shouldn’t that be boulevards? – Ed], let’s revisit Stephen Roche’s 1987 Tour victory in the year of its silver anniversary. The defending champion American Greg LeMond was absent, recovering from an earlier accidental shooting incident. The Tour started with a prologue in West Berlin – this side of that wall – and Poland’s Lech Piasecki became the first eastern-bloc rider to wear the yellow jersey after stage one. He was one of eight different riders to wear yellow in that year’s Tour, another new record.
Many reckon that key to Roche’s victory was stage 21 but the building blocks were put in place when he won stage ten’s 87km individual time trial from Saumur to Futurscope. The winner of the next time trial, stage 18 – up the fabled Mont Ventoux – blew up on the following day’s which was won by Pedro Delgado while Roche took the maillot jaune. Stage 20 finished atop the legendary L’Alpe d’Huez. It was won by Delgado who also retook the yellow jersey. No matter, Roche was a much better time-trialler than Delgado, so he only needed to maintain and not overhaul the latter.
Stage 21 to La Plagne was won by Laurent Fignon. Delgado had attacked early on but his team lost track of Roche’s progress in the fog surrounding the summit and, to everyone’s surprise, he almost caught Delgado on the line. Roche wrapped up victory on the penultimate time trial, while Delgado was runner-up. The final stage into Paris was won by American Jeff Pierce a victory, which was to be the only real jewel in his long cycling career.
More tinkering in 1987: the number of cyclists in each team was reduced from ten to nine to allow more teams to compete. One of those was the woefully underprepared and underfunded British team ANC Halfords which imploded during the race. In addition, race organisers changed the recently introduced (1983) young rider classification from being only open to Tour rookies under 26 years of age at the beginning of the year, to take account of all riders in that age group.
So you see, the Tour is never won on Paris’ hallowed streets but is does provide a fitting finale for its worthy winners. While only one man can wear the yellow jersey in Paris, everyone who succeeds in reaching the French capital is a winner in our books. Chapeau to you all!
Stage 20: Rambouillet to Paris Champs Élysées, 172km, flat
With all four major jerseys – yellow, green, polka dot and white – already determined, the traditional closing stage of the Tour is even more processional than ever this year. After the obligatory pictures of champagne for maillot jaune Bradley Wigginsand Sky being granted the traditional honour of leading the yellow jersey onto the Champs Élysées, it will be down to the sprinters to provide the final punctuation mark on the 2012 Tour after eight laps of France’s most famous boulevard.
Mark Cavendish has owned this thoroughfare for the past three years, and he’ll be keen to be first over the line yet again with the unique sight of the yellow jersey helping to lead him out. But will one of the other sprinters rain on his parade? Like Peter Sagan? Or fellow three-stage winner Andre Greipel? Or Matt Goss, the ‘Eternal Second’ of this year’s sprints? We’ll find out today.
Cycling the Alps’ interactive videos of the route can be found here.