Stage 21: Versailles to Paris, 133.5km
The 100th Tour de France is over. Marcel Kittel won the final stage in the Paris twilight, while Chris Froome completed the formality of finishing to confirm himself as champion.
The riders rolled leisurely out from the Palace of Versailles with all the usual tradition and silliness that the last day of term traditionally brings. The maillot jaune Chris Froome (Sky) sipped champagne. Cannondale’s Peter Sagan wore both a curly wig and goatee as green as his jersey. Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez lit up a small cigar (his nickname, ‘Purito’, being Spanish for ‘little cigar’).
With the sun slowly dipping towards the horizon, the peloton deviated from the traditional route, passing through the courtyard of the Louvre before Sky led the bunch on to the Champs-Élysées for the first of 11 passages of the finish line, with the circuit extending around the Arc de Triomphe rather than executing a hairpin turn in front of it. David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) were the big names in an initial four-man break, with a solo Millar keeping the peloton entertained until the final 20km. A subsequent counter-attack featuring Alejandro Valverde (Movistar)was swallowed up as the riders crossed the line for the final 7km lap.
The sprint trains of Argos-Shimano, Lotto-Belisol and Omega Pharma-Quick Step battled for supremacy in the closing kilometres, as they have done throughout the race. And, as has been the case more often that not, it was Marcel Kittel‘s team who established their lead-out man in pole position going through the final corner, while Mark Cavendish‘s train once again evaporated at the critical moment. Kittel opened up his sprint early on the slight uphill incline. Cavendish had to try to launch himself from behind both Kittel and Andre Greipel and started to close rapidly in the final 50 metres, but Kittel maintained his speed in impressive style to take his fourth victory of the Tour – more than any other rider – by half a length. Greipel just held on to second.
43 seconds later, a single yellow-clad rider freewheeled across the line surrounded by a cadre of black jerseys, savouring the moment. Chris Froome had succeeded Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins as the winner of the Tour, ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rodriguez. You wait 99 races for a British winner, and then two come along at once.
Quintana won both the white and polka dot jerseys, while Sagan was confirmed as the green jersey winner and Ag2r La Mondiale’s Alpe d’Huez victor Christophe Riblon – the only French stage winner this year – was awarded the Super-Combativity prize. Alberto Contador, fourth overall, did get to stand on the podium, but only as part of the Saxo-Tinkoff squad that won the team classification.
VeloVoices riders of the day
Sometimes it’s difficult to pick our Rider of the Day award from a hatful of excellent performances, but for the final day of the 100th Tour the decision is an easy one. Today’s award goes to all 169 finishers – plus the ill Lieuwe Westra (Vacansoleil-DCM), who became the first rider since 1977 to abandon on the final stage – from Chris Froome right down to lanterne rouge Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEDGE).
Never underestimate how big an achievement it is to finish any grand tour, let alone this one. Each rider will have their own personal tales of hardship, suffering and derring-do. Each of them deserves an accolade regardless of their finishing position. This one’s for all of you, gentlemen. Thank you for making this most special edition of the world’s greatest bike race what it was. Chapeau, messieurs.
Opinion & analysis
There is no retrospective analysis today, although there will be plenty of discussion on VeloVoices over the coming week. But, looking forward, what questions does this 100th Tour de France pose? Here are three to ponder.
1. How close is Nairo Quintana to challenging Chris Froome? The ‘real’ gap between the top two (discounting today’s meaningless 43 seconds) was essentially 5:03. But what if Quintana hadn’t been sent on a sacrificial attack on the first summit finish on stage eight? He lost 1:45 that day, then gave up 3:16 in the first individual time trial – that’s 5:01 in two stages alone. If – and, of course, it’s a big if – he had been Movistar’s team leader from the start it’s reasonable to assume he would have at least finished much closer to Froome on Ax 3 Domaines. If he can improve his TT skills to, say, halve his time losses, then the comparable gap to Froome based on this year’s parcours is reduced from five to two minutes. That’s close enough to make him a genuinely serious rival next year, when he will also have the benefit of having already completed a Tour. Anyone fancy Froome versus Quintana versus Nibali next year? Yes please!
2. Is Alberto Contador a spent force? It seems churlish to say this about a man who held second until the final major climb and won last year’s Vuelta, but for all his battling spirit this is not the Contador who won all five of the grand tours he entered between 2007 and 2009. The savage acceleration in the mountains is missing, as well as the staying power which saw him win an individual time trial in the 2009 Tour. Even last year’s Vuelta triumph came as a result of a tactical masterstroke on a relatively benign stage, after it appeared that Rodriguez and Valverde had the physical measure of him. He’s still only 30, so physical decline is not a concern yet, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that this is not quite the Contador of old. How much of this is his own decline and how much is due to the improvement of Froome, Nibali et cetera is open to debate. He is definitely still a contender, for sure, but not the contender any more.
3. Is Marcel Kittel now the man to beat in the sprints? Even Mark Cavendish has conceded that Kittel has been the fastest man at this Tour, and anyone who has watched the strapping young German over the past 2½ years will know that his performances here were no flash in the pan. Cav has been below par in France thanks to a pre-Tour bout of bronchitis, the weight of a horrendously draining Giro campaign and a lead-out train which misfired too often. However, that should take nothing away from Kittel’s achievements, who proved that he can hold off the best in the world from the front and coming from behind. The key to assessing Kittel is his performances against Greipel, who he has had the beating of throughout. I think Cavendish remains the man to beat – expect him to bounce back with a vengeance in 2014 – but he now has a rival who can match him for both pace and consistency (Greipel has always lacked the latter). It will make for some great confrontations next year and hopefully beyond.
Stage 21 result
1. Marcel Kittel (Argos-Shimano) 3:06:14
2. Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) same time
3. Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) s/t
4. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) s/t
5. Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) s/t
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 83:56:40
2. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) +4:20
3. Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) +5:04
4. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) +6:27
5. Roman Kreuziger (Saxo-Tinkoff) +7:27
6. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +11:42
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) +12:17
8. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +15:26
9. Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) +15:52
10. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) +17:39
Green jersey: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Polka dot jersey: Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
White jersey: Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
Team classification: Saxo-Tinkoff.
Super-Combativity prize: Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale)
Link: Official website