If you had been asked to pick your favourites for the final stage of the Tour de France at the start of July, two men high on that list would have been Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha). Illness took its toll on the two riders, however, and they were no match for a charging André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) on Sunday.
Cavendish has the record for most consecutive victories on the Champs-Élysées but it has been three years since he was able to lift his arms in victory on the cobbled street.
“It wasn’t a really complicated race today, there were no crashes and it wasn’t a coincidence that Greipel, who has won three stages before, went on to win number four. Congrats to Lotto and Greipel, they did a super job,” said Etixx-QuickStep directeur sportif Brian Holm.
The disappointment was evident on Cavendish's face, who was crying when he met his family after the stage. With one victory on stage 7, it’s the lowest tally for Cavendish at a Tour de France since his debut in 2007 – discounting last year’s abandon on stage 1. The Manxman has been suffering with illness since the middle of the second week but the team didn’t want to make excuses.
“That’s doctor stuff, I don’t really want to speculate about it,” Holm said. “He survived the mountains really well, he rode hard in the Alps so I know that he didn’t feel well but that was part of the race, riders don’t really feel very well. Everybody can write their own novel about the Tour de France and whether it was good and bad, and maybe ours is a bit sicker than others but that’s part of the race.”
Kristoff fared better than Cavendish but the Norwegian admitted that he too had been suffering in recent days. “I’ve been struggling with fever so I knew that my shape wasn’t the top,” Kristoff told Cyclingnews after catching his breath on the Champs-Élysées.
This year’s Tour de France has been particularly hard on the sprinters with just one possible opportunity for a sprint between the first rest day and Paris. Kristoff has had a disappointing race by his own standards without a single victory. Despite the illness, the Champs-Élysées was the strongest he’d looked so far. There was a problem with the Katusha lead-out and Kristoff was the first rider to launch his sprint but faded in the final metres.
“It’s been very tough and there have not been too many possibilities but again Greipel showed that he is the fastest in this Tour and he took the win,” Kristoff said. “I did what I could, I had the best lead-out but we came a little bit fast in this last corner, Jacopo lost his chain and we lost a bit of speed there but in the end I didn’t have the legs to beat Greipel. He was quite a bit faster than me.”