So after three weeks and twenty stages, the peloton finally approach their intended destination of the famous Parisian avenue that is the Champs Élysées. Tradition remains on Stage 21, a contrast to a race which has started in Utrecht, included one time trial, few sprints stages and concluded the general classification the day before Paris upon Alpe d’Huez. Resisting the temptation tinker with the famous last stage of Le Tour de France has meant we still bolster a full lineup of the spiriting talent which started this race, motivated by this final gallop in Paris to haul themselves over the mountains which stood before them.
Beginning in Serves-Grand Paris Seine Ouest, the riders have been set an extremely modest 109.5km to ride in order to formally finish 2015’s Tour de France. The only climb of today and the final of the entire race is completed after 10.5km in the saddle, the Category 4 Côte de l’Observatoire lasting for 2.2km and average a simple enough 4.1% throughout. From this point onwards it is bound to be a leisurely roll into the Paris suburbs on flat terrain which must feel like some of the tour’s fastest descents after yesterday’s efforts.
The usual finishing circuits begin after they have clocked up a little under 40km of riding, crossing the line first time a short distance later and signalling the return of hostilities for the last time at this race. With its gentle drag upwards and presence of cobbles, the Champs Élysées remains one of the most stressful day’s for the riders in the entire three weeks of riding. With each pass of the finishing line the tempo is seen to ratchet up a notch, the tenth and final pass setting the scene for the most decisive moments of Stage 21. Two tight 90-degree bends are present around the flamme rouge and once inside the last kilometre, the teams aiming to position their key man ahead of the bunch kick will need to successfully negotiate the two long sweeping bends which exit onto the 400m finishing straight, otherwise their chances of a final victory will be lost with in those concluding turns.
The clear favourite for today’s win is Lotto-Soudal’s André Greipel, the German having dominated the sprints this year convincingly. He is yet to win on the Champs Élysées and could finally break his duck thanks to the sort of form which has seen his rivals struggle to challenge him in a consistent fashion during the race. His biggest disadvantage is how he fails to recover in time for the sprint off the back of the usual run of transition stages which link the final Alpine days with the last day in Paris; let alone how today comes off the back of yesterday’s Alp d’Huez finish. Greipel has been climbing better than expected however, comfortably placed within the grupetto on every day alongside his rivals such as Mark Cavendish and John Degenkolb. The absence of Greg Henderson within his train will be a negative for him on a day where positioning is crucial, though he seems to have improved when having to compensate for poor placing in the sprints. Perhaps the only thing that could stop him is the possibility of a heavy downpour during the final lap of Stage 21, the rain often seeing Greipel shrink from the front of affairs in fear of crashing and ruining his season.
Mark Cavendish remains one of the favourites for Stage 21, despite having only put in a couple of convincing performances to truly test and beat André Greipel during the rare sprint stages. Sadly for him, he has lost an immense amount of firepower from his leadout train; Tony Martin, Mark Renshaw and Michal Kwiatkowski having all abandoned the race. Lacking the high end speed of Martin and Kwiatkowski is bad enough, but adding the lack of his leadout man Renshaw too; Cavendish is truly handicapped heading into today’s stage. Teammates Matteo Trentin and Zdenek Stybar are expected to pick up the slack for Cavendish, but although great riders, neither have the engine or skills to compensate for their absent teammates. Though Cavendish is probably still the fastest man in a sprint, his dominance of the Champs Élysées in recent years has been down to the immense support which has seen him exit the final bend in pole position almost every time. This seems unlikely to happen again today and instead he will be better off hiding in the wheels and launching a late sprint similar to that which won him his sole victory so for at Le Tour.
Many will be be deterred from backing the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff as his performances have not been quite as scintillating as expected off the back of a brilliant Spring campaign. However, Kristoff often exits the attritional tail end of a Grand Tour with strength and it would be no surprise if he has been pacing his efforts comfortably in the grupetto to expend as little energy as possible to make each day’s time cut. There is no doubt that Kristoff has targeted this final stage as his major goal for the entire race and now enters it with a strong advantage in the form of a leadout train which appears only equalled by Lotto-Soudal. Though he is not as fast as Griepel and Cavendish, Kristoff should be fresher, has more support than his British rival and really benefits from the gentle incline which runs up to the finishing line. Weather is similarly now problem for this tough classics styled rider, and if anything, he would have preferred a long, harder day to close Le Tour de France.
John Degenkolb has had a reasonably quiet race, but has still put in encouraging displays which earn him inclusion as a true contender for Stage 21. Generally speaking, Degenkolb often exits the last mountain stages of a Grand Tour in good condition, often underrated as a good climber due to his successes as a sprinter and classics specialist. Similar to Alexander Kristoff, freshness is bound to be his biggest advantage over his faster finishing rivals such as Mark Cavendish and André Greipel; as well as a the slight drag to the line. Degenkolb also has the next best leadout after Lotto-Soudal and Katusha for today, meaning he should be better position than expected and the reigning Paris-Roubaix champion will certainly have no issues with tackling the possibility of wet cobblestones in the finale.
Now would be the perfect occasion for Peter Sagan to finally convert his podium placings into a stage victory, adding the cherry to another dominant Green Jersey compeition which he choked of life not long after Greipel’s last win. In comparison to those above him, he lacks the sustained high end speed to contest these simple sprint finishes, though has demonstrated a new found turn of pace this year. His positioning ability has fluctuated greatly this year and he will have no support whatsoever as usual from Tinkoff-Saxo. Some atrocious weather conditions could level the playing field slightly for the Slovakian champion, but he ultimately looks resigned to come within a whisker of another win and finish with the Green Jersey and zero wins.
Arnaud Demare, Davide Cimolai, Bryan Coquard, Michael Matthews, Ramunas Navardauskas, Edvald Boasson Hagen are all likely names to round out the top ten here in Paris. Given that the chance of bad weather seems a given on Stage 21, any wet conditions will make the peloton anxious to stay upright, slowing them down and providing a breakaway with a much better chance of causing an upset similar to that of this year’s Giro d’Italia finale. Jan Bakelants, Rohan Dennis, Stephen Cummings, Luke Durbridge and Sep Vanmarcke all possess the skills to instigate such a move and give the peloton something difficult to pull back to guarantee them a sprint finish.
1st Alexander Kristoff 2nd Andre Greipel 3rd Peter Sagan