The Tour finishes in Paris for the 102nd time, and on the Champs Elysées for the 41st time. It’s 40 years since the Tour first finished on the world’s most famous boulevard, with local hero Bernard Thévenet taking the first French yellow jersey in eight years. Imagine the impact and the crowds if Thibaut Pinot, Jean-Christophe Peraud or Romain Bardet ends 30 years of French hurt on the same stage this year.
This stage is part celebration, part parade, part criterium and part headlong sprint. The final destination of the yellow jersey is already decided - it would be possible to gain time on this stage, theoretically, but a) the sprinters’ teams are unlikely to allow it to happen and b) there’s an unwritten convention that says this stage is a celebration of finishing the Tour, rather than a strategic hot spot. So the sprinters’ teams area more or less left to get on with it, along with whichever riders have enough energy to hang themselves out to dry in the escape for the entertainment of the huge crowds.
The finishing circuit is not your typical criterium circuit. Often, city centre crits have tight corners and short straights, with narrow roads and pinch points. The Champs Elysées circuit is wide with long straights, and since the U-turn at the top end of the Champs was replaced with the television loop around the Arc de Triomphe, there isn’t a single point riders need to touch the brakes. There are only two complicating factors – the Champs Elysées drags upwards, especially past the finish line, which gives the riders one last small reminder of the mountains they have ridden up in the past three weeks, and the surface of the Champs is not tarmac, but concrete setts, which are a bumpier ride.
It’s going to be a sprint. Riders have escaped from the bunch to win on the Champs Elysées, but it’s notable that since the last time, Alexandre Vinokourov in 2005, sprint trains have become vastly more effective. In the 2005 Paris stage, six different riders were able to attack from the bunch in the final two kilometres, while no single team was visible at the front of the bunch, a situation which would be unthinkable these days. Into the finishing straight behind VInokourov and his breakaway partner Bradley McGee, it was just a Crédit Agricole rider, a Bouygues Telecom, a Rabobank, an Ag2r, an FDJ, and then two Lotto riders. Vinokourov’s attack was impressive, but he took advantage of disorganisation in the peloton that simply wouldn’t happen now.
For this year, unless a critical mass of sprinters have pulled out of what is admittedly a mountainous Tour, this stage will be tightly controlled by their teams, and it would take a miracle for an escape to succeed.
Bernard Thevenet's View
"I won the Tour the first year it finished on the Champs Elysées. It was only going to be a one-off, but the crowds were so incredible, and large, that it became an annual event. Previous finishes at the velodrome had good crowds, but this was another level - the Champs Elysées is the ideal place for a beautiful finish.
"This is, of course, a stage for the sprinters. But it’s still more complicated than that. With such a hard Tour, some of the sprinters might not have made it this far, and even if they have, they will probably have lost team-mates. Every now and again you get an escape on the Champs, but you have to be a really strong rouleur, and attack on the final lap. An escape won in 1994 and in 2005 with Vinokourov, so it happens every 10 years or so. Perhaps we’re due another one this year."
Stats & Facts
- The Tour has finished in Paris every single year it has taken place, and on the Champs Elysées every year since 1975.
- Of the 40 finishes on the Champs, 34 have been won in a bunch sprint. The exceptions: Meslet (1977), Hinault (1979), Pierce (1987), Seigneur (1994) and Vinokourov (2005). Plus LeMond (1989) in a time trial.
- Mark Cavendish has the record of Champs Elysées wins with four. Nobody else has won more than two.
- Best country: Belgium with eight wins on the Champs. Italy and France both have five, and the UK and the Netherlands have four.
0km Start Sèvres 16:15
10.5km Cat 4 climb Côte de l’Observatoire 16:49
41km Finish line lap 1 Champs Elysées 17:33
55.5km Sprint Champs Elysées, top end 17:54
109.5km Finish Champs Elysées 19:11
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of ProCycling magazine