Post Stage Analysis

Victory for Cavendish on the Champs Élysées
Contador wins the Tour de France, Andy Schleck and Armstrong on the final podium

Mark Cavendish took his sixth stage win of this year’s Tour de France. No one came close as Mark Renshaw rocketed ahead of the field and delivered Cavendish to the line. Renshaw finished second and Tyler Farrar of Garmin-Slipstream took third. Thor Hushovd of Cervélo TestTeam finished sixth and successfully defended the Green Jersey. The general classification remained unchanged as is traditional, and Alberto Contador celebrated his second overall victory at the Tour de France.

The Story

It was all champagne and smiles as the race rolled out from the start for the final stage of this year’s Tour de France. The bunch posed for the cameras and rode the traditional parade-style tempo until they reached the Champs Élysées the finale. On the first lap, a break of seven riders escaped for a bit of television time and a long-shot chance at the prestigious stage victory. The group included: Jussi Veikkanen of Français des Jeux, Samuel Dumoulin of Cofidis, Fumiyuki Beppu of Skil-Shimano, Fabian Wegmann of Milram, Carlos Barredo of Quick Step, Alexandre Pichot of Bbox Bouygues Télécom. Columbia-HTC kept the break tightly in check, and the escape never achieved much more than a 30 second advantage.

With one lap to go, only three riders from the original escape still survived. Viekkanen, Wegmann, and Beppu remained out in front, but the catch was imminent. Beppu took home the most combative award for his efforts on today's stage. Columbia-HTC rode at the front and the gap hovered around 10 seconds as they dashed down the Champs Élysées toward the Arc de Triomphe. As they approached the turn-around with 5 kilometers to race, the main field overtook the three attackers and it was all back together.

Back down the Champs Élysées toward the Place de la Concorde, the positioning battle among the sprinters began. Columbia-HTC rode on the front for Mark Cavendish, while Thor Hushovd, Oscar Freire, and Daniele Bennati moved up to set up for the sprint. Garmin-Slipstream sat nearby ready to lead-out Tyler Farrar. With 3 kilometers to go, Garmin-Slipstream moved to the front. Under the impetus of Garmin-Slipstream, the train snaked through the Place de la Concorde and under the tunnel. Down the straightaway along side the Ferris Wheel, Garmin-slipstream continued to drive the bunch strung out single-file.

Under the red kite, the alarm clock went off at Columbia-HTC. George Hincapie put in a furious acceleration and led the Columbia-HTC train up the left-hand side quickly overtaking the Garmin-Slipstream lead-out. Julian Dean and Tyler Farrar rode along side the Columbia train, looking for a wheel. In a crafty bit of bike play, Hincapie pulled off, passing close to the hard-charging train and forcing Dean and Farrar to go wide around him. The two Garmin-Slipstream riders skimmed the barricades as the road swept right from the Place de la Concorde to the Champs Élysées. Slingshotting through the corner, Dean led Farrar back across the road toward the back wheel of Cavendish. For a brief moment, the two teams were even on the road.

But Renshaw had something special in his legs today and when he hit the finishing straight, he rocked up the road with Cavendish in his wheel. Dean slotted Farrar into the line-up on the wheel of Cavendish, nearly pinching Hushovd into the barricades which ran down the center of the Champs Élysées. The race was already up the road, as Renshaw and Cavendish opened up an enormous gap over the rest of the sprinters. The two sped up the road to the finish alone in the camera’s frame. Behind the two Columbia-HTC riders, the other sprinters battled for third out of view. At the line, Cavendish won the stage, while his lead-out Mark Renshaw took second. Tyler Farrar took third, and added another podium finish to his sprinting palmarès. Gerald Ciolek of Milram and Yauheni Hutarovich of Français des Jeux rounded out the top five. Thor Hushovd finished sixth, which proved sufficient to secure the Green Jersey.

After the stage, Cavendish called his win on the Champs Élysées “amazing.” “I wanted to win on the Champs Élysées. Every single sprinter in the world dreams of crossing the line on the Champs Élysées with their arms in the air,” a smiling Cavendish told the press. The Columbia-HTC sprinter also praised his team and called their work “perfect.” “Mark went and it was just perfect,” he concluded. Today marked the sixth stage win of this Tour for Cavendish. Though he proved the dominant sprinter, he could not wrest the Green Jersey from Thor Hushovd, who determinedly chased points through the mountains in a show of strength and defiance.

The general classification remained unchanged, as is the custom for this final stage of the Tour. Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck, and Lance Armstrong stood on the podium together as the top three in the general classification. Contador and Armstrong exchanged stiff handshakes, their animosity barely contained. In a post-race interview, Contador said that the Tour was as difficult for him in the hotel as it was on the road. Armstrong, meanwhile, said that this year’s winner “had weaknesses,” but for now, Armstrong would “keep them to himself.” According to VeloNews, Armstrong declined to attend the victory party for Contador.

Andy Schleck, meanwhile, was happy to achieve his highest yet finish in the Tour de France. He now has a podium in the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France to his credit, and a monument win at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The young Saxo Bank rider is still under 25, and won the White Jersey for Best Young Rider at this year’s Tour. He confided in a post-race interview that he will need to improve his time trial to win the Tour, but he is looking forward to riding against Contador in the future, and perhaps winning.

With his two kids in tow, Franco Pellizotti accepted the Polka Dot Jersey for best climber. Pellizotti rode countless breakaways in this Tour, chasing the points at every opportunity. A stage win proved elusive, though the Italian came close on two occasions. Still, there will be celebrations at Liquigas-Doimo, because in addition to Pellizotti’s win in the Mountains Classification, the team has two top ten finishes in the general classification to celebrate. Vincenzo Nibali finished seventh, while Roman Kreuziger finished ninth, after a late charge up the standings with his ride on Mont Ventoux.

Garmin-Slipstream also placed two riders in the top ten. Bradley Wiggins equaled the British record for highest general classification finish at fourth. He shares the record with Robert Millar. Christian Vandevelde, meanwhile, rebounded from a serious crash in the Giro d’Italia to finish eighth, at the same time as he rode in support of Wiggins. A stage win proved elusive for the Garmin-Slipstream team, despite a big ride in the team time trial and several placings for Tyler Farrar in the sprints.

After riding a long breakaway, Christophe Le Mével rode consistently through the mountains and in the crono to finish tenth on the general classification. Le Mével is the highest placed French rider this year, though certainly the French teams can be happy with their stage results this year. Brice Feillu of Agritubel, riding his first Tour de France, won the first mountain stage at Arcalís, while Pierrick Fédrigo and Thomas Voeckler of Bbox Bouygues Télécom each celebrated stage victories this year.

And so we come to the end of another Tour de France. This year’s course left all the drama for the final week, rewarding patience on the part of both fans and riders. The many breakaway stages introduced us to new riders, while the general classification remained tightly compressed until the final stages. Already the rivalries are forming for next year, with Contador, Andy Schleck, and Armstrong all promising to return. But there’s a long road yet to race before next July comes around. — Gavia

That’s all from me, for now. Thanks for joining us for the July party!

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Course Preview

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Terrain Type: Profoundly flat.
GC Importance: Party time!

This year’s Tour ends with the traditional parade stage into Paris. The 164 kilometer stage begins in Montereau-Fault-Yonne, which sits almost directly south of Paris at the confluence of the Seine and Yonne rivers. The town has twice hosted the Tour de France in the past. The course runs north over flat terrain and passes through Saint-Maurice into central Paris. Then, it’s eight laps through Paris on and around the storied Champs Élysées. Paris fun fact! One can walk across Paris from North to South in about two hours. Or, so the ASO tells me. I confess, I’ve never actually tried it.

The circuits run the length of the Champs Élysées, the massive boulevard that runs between Le Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe. There is a slight gradient to the road, which together with the speed of these final circuits renders successful breakaways nearly impossible. With 3 kilometers to go, the race passes through the Place de la Concorde then under a short tunnel. The positioning battle for the final sprint will be in full force here. Up from the tunnel, the riders turn left and head back to the Place de la Concorde. The road bends left around the fountain, then slightly right on to the Champs Élysées. On the grand boulevard it’s a straight shot of about 500 meters to the finish. The road has a slight uphill gradient here, so the smart rider will time his sprint carefully. The road surface is smooth cobbles, which become extremely slippery in the rain.

Who To Watch

This stage is all about the final sprint. The Champs Élysées sprint favors a sprinter with good positioning and a big acceleration. The winner must navigate the tunnel and the final turns correctly and nail the timing of the sprint to the line. This stage is one of the most prestigious wins in cycling for the sprinters.

Thor Hushovd won this stage in 2006, but will not have an easy time getting past Cavendish. Mark Cavendish has already said he hopes to win here, but he will need to get through the mountains first. Tyler Farrar, meanwhile, has placed consistently second and third in the bunch sprints. I can’t imagine he’d complain if he took his first major sprint victory on the Champs Élysées. The Green Jersey competition may be in play, though as of now, Hushovd has a commanding lead ahead of Cavendish. This year, the final stage will likely be all about the stage win. Champagne and podium kisses to the winner!

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Gavia (updates to this preview will be made during the race and especially the day before the stage with current analysis)<-->