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Tour de France 2008: Stage 21

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Bonjour and welcome back to Cyclingnews' live coverage from the Tour de France one final time this year. 143 kilometres stand between the start of the final stage and the party on the Champs-Elysées.

Today's race will start 13:35. There will be a 100- kilometre neutral start. Just kidding. It is actually 4.5 kilometres. The real start will be at 13:45. But as is tradition with the victor decided, there will be a bit of celebration first. When the race will start in earnest depends on when the Frenchman get itchy. Especially the ones that still hope to get the most combative rider overall award. It will be decided by a jury including journos, cycling celebrities and members from the organiser. We think Sylvain Chavanel will be the hottest candidate for the prize.

The weather forecast is OK. It is supposed to rain all around Paris, but the capital should stay dry. The temperatures are again pretty high. Paris is expected to get 29 degrees. We predict a sun-resistant rider ahead today.

Sun-resistant? Who would be better suited as South African Robert Hunter. Hunter told Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson before the start that he hasn't counted himself out just yet. "I'm very happy with my Tour so far. Obviously I haven't achieved what I wanted to yet [a stage win], but I'm not disappointed, that's for sure. Today will give me one more chance, so we'll see."

Five riders are ahead right now: Oscar Freire, Bernhard Kohl, Carlos Sastre and Andy Schleck have the distinct jerseys (green, polka-dot, yellow and white). Sylvain Chavanel is also ahead. He is a good candidate for the most aggressive rider for the overall.

With ahead we mean they were first at the start line, introduced one by one. Now the rest of the peloton has rolled up. Chavanel has indeed won the overall most aggressive rider award. He just said that "it's a great end to my Tour."

Carlos Sastre also gave a final interview under sunny skies in

A ton of spectators are out. Lots of digital cameras are held up as the riders sneak by. They pedal fast enough to not tip over. But not faster.

The bunch is riding one block over from the train line. Some may be tempted to jump over and take the TGV. But as far as we know the TGV doesn't stop here. Oh well, you can't take your bike anyway, unless it is bagged anyway.

The green and the yellow dudes are chatting to each other. Both are smiles and they don't have problems understanding each other. Freire and Sastre are both Spanish. Andy Schleck and Kohl also chat, likely in German. The Luxemburgers are known for being multilingual. No wonder, with their mix of official languages. German, French, Luxembourgish...

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It is going a tad uphill. All are out of the saddle, but still riding very slowly, hoping to not go much past their resting heart rate for now.

Cancellara has moved up to the front row and gives the victory sign. Yes, CSC can be happy, even without stage victory.

Ok, photo time for CSC. The entire team is on the front and arm in arm. The motos from the photographers are swerving around ahead of the peloton like crazy to get their shots in. We hope to have some before the stage ends.

Jens Voigt and Stuart O'Grady do the basketball greeting - a fist pump. Both are smiling behind both ears.

There is goes - Prudhomme waves the flag for the real start. And....

Ha!!! That was it for Prudhomme's white départ flag. Jos

2km remaining from 143km

The moto with the number 1 have the Cofidis bike helmets on. We wonder if that is against regulations?

Ok, the helmets didn't work out, although they may be a tad safer than the flimsy bicycle helmets. The helmets are exchanged back and Dumoulin and Aug

If we go by the Nesquik race that happens each year before the pros hit the Champs Elysées, then the yellow jersey will win. The Nesquik event lets the youngsters race before many of the stages. Today, the start was given at the flamme rouge The hotly contested sprint was won by a little kid in yellow. But then again, all the kids were wearing a yellow outfit, provided by the sponsor.

The spectators are out in force, protecting themselves with umbrellas and sunscreen against the sun.

6km remaining from 143km

An off-road motor biker keeps up on the right over an already harvested field.

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Carlos Sastre tests his French. "Bonjour Paris. Merci beaucoup!"

Johan Van Summeren (Silence-Lotto) and team-mate Mario Aerts chat at the end, while Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto) keeps shaking his head. It is unclear if Vansevenant is unhappy for Evans. The Belgian should instead celebrate his "Lanterne Rouge" win. Barring accident, he will arrive in Paris in last place, by 53 seconds.

14km remaining from 143km

Yesterday's stage winner Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) drops back to the team car and chats. Is he getting some advise? Schumacher has had a great Tour. Two stage wins and several attacks in the Alps.

A small round about is followed by a really gigantic one. But the slow speed means no trouble for the riders. The bunch passes the traffic circle to the left - the right hand side is closed off.

18km remaining from 143km

Oscar Freire (Rabobank) is set to become the first Spaniard to win the green jersey. All he has to make sure is to arrive in one piece in Paris. He has a 42-point lead over Erik Zabel. There is a maximum of 47 points to hand out today. But it would mean Zabel takes both sprints and the stage, while Freire would take virtually no points.

The bunch passes the Forêt Domaniale de Dourdan. The road is very straight. There are a few clouds, but it is mostly sunny. The good mood indicator inside the peloton is on super high.

Riders are still coming by to shake hands with Sastre. Gert Steegmans (Quick Step) is next. Steegmans' team-mate Carlos Barredo drops back to Sastre as well. Barredo is Spanish as well and spends a bit more time on Sastre's left to have a chat and catch up on the news in their country.

Steegmans, done shaking hands with Sastre, summed up his Tour for Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson. "I feel fine, but it's a shame we haven't won a stage yet. It's a lot of stress for us - but the pressure comes not from our team, but from the Belgian press. We'll see how it will work today.

Don't drink and drive? We can't spot any team car that doesn't have a bottle of champagne. Well, except for the Quick Step one, of course.

26km remaining from 143km

Oh, no, Sastre is at the doc's car!!! What is wrong with the Spaniard on the final day?

Leonardo Duque and Sylvain Chavanel line up with Sastre for another photo. We wonder how Sastre's shoulder feels now that everyone has stopped by...

29km remaining from 143km

In case you were wondering, the last few kilometres Jens Voigt was on the front, albeit chatting away.

Hans-Michael Holczer, the manager of Gerolsteiner has mixed feelings. With his team's performance, he is happy."We did an exceptional Tour. Getting polka dot is incredible. We knew about Kohl's abilities in the mountains and in the time trial, but we didn't expect the podium. Before yesterday we were hoping for fifth. We were afraid of getting sixth. Getting the podium is incredible."

But Holczer still has not found a sponsor. "The situation is tough. We still hope, we do have contacts. We may know more next week. But there is a chance that the end of the season is the end of the team. That would be a real shame."

We have a birthday boy in the peloton today! Happy Birthday to Martijn
Maaskant of Garmin-Chipotle, who turns 25 today. The Dutchman will be very happy to reach Paris and celebrate his birthday the same day.

33km remaining from 143km

Jens Voigt has surrendered the spot on the front to Liquigas and Quick Step.

Sastre is in trouble, he has dropped to the end of the peloton!

Oh, he just went to the car #1 of Tour director Christian Prudhomme to request a drink. Bjarne Riis will only offer water, but the French organiser gives Sastre some champagne.

Sastre toasts with Riis. The Danish team manager does not have objections. Sastre now rides next to Cancellara. Ex and hopp. The Swiss chrono specialist empties the glass quickly. He apparently can handle it well, riding along without swerving.

38km remaining from 143km

Ah, Riis now has some champagne as well. Sastre waves a Spanish flag and tries to put it in Cancellara's back pocket.
Someone from CSC, we believe it was Fr

Lance Johnson informs us that Sastre and Andy Schleck both have special brake hoods in white and yellow made by Hudz in Boulder, Colorado

The bunch passes a tree nursery. It looks a tad sad, with most trees not having grown up yet enough to actually be called trees. Hopefully that will change soon.

The bunch passes the Château de Breteuil. It is, after Versailles, the most visited castle in France. It is well known for its diverse gardens. Notably a French garden, a promenade des arbres or treelined promenade. There is also a labyrinth.

45km remaining from 143km

Schumacher said that "Yesterday was great. Of course when you win and get yellow, you are happy. But there are always more stages. I have really great memories on this year's Tour. We had tough stages, but now we arrive at the Champs."

We see Christian Vande Velde (Garmin Chipotle - H30) and team-mate Danny Pate riding next to each other. Vande Velde has had a great Tour and will finish in fifth, only 3'12 down on the winner.

47km remaining from 143km

Kohl, who is third overall and easily won the polka-dot jersey, is coming
in for some praise from some big names. "He has proved that he is a very
good climber," according to Eddy Merckx. "He is still young and has some
good years ahead of him."

Kohl is at the front on the Còte de Saint-R

300 more metres. A Quick Step rider comes up and seems to negotiate if he can get the points.

48km remaining from 143km

Quick Step desperately needs the money....

There have been lots of doping controls at this Tour: 415, to be exact.
Three of them turned up positive (Ricc

Flat in the back. It is suffered by Robbie McEwen of Australia. He should have no trouble to get back, although the pace has picked up a bit after the KOM. But only because it is a (slight) downhill.

Alejandro Valverde chats with David Arroyo, as the two Caisse d'Epargne riders roll over a ralentisseur (speed bump).

There are still an amazing number of fans out there (and digital cameras). Some wear a polka dot cycling hat. The sponsor, supermarket Champion, gives them out in the caravane publicitaire , which precedes the race by a couple of hours.

The second climb of the day and Kohl is not going for it. On the Còte de Ch

53km remaining from 143km

Oh, will we have an accident here? A guy in a yellow T-Shirt rides his bike over a piece of wire, some ten metres above the peloton. To be fair, he has a long balancing stick, but still...

Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas) has some regrets, but is hopeful for today. He talked to Cyclingnews' Daniel Benson before the start. "I am calm and my condition is good, but the results never came. I hope I can do something in today's stage - I am still going well. It is not a sprint for pure sprinters, it is a finish that is slightly uphill and on pav

Two riders are on the bike path, one of them a Lampre guy. Their bikes look funny.
Wait, they are cyclo-tourists and they have no trouble keeping up!

Bernhard Kohl's time trial started and ended with scary moments. He fell
off the ramp on the way to the start, and then collapsed at the doping
control afterwards. "I rode up in too low a gear and too slowly, came to
a standstill halfway up, and fell with my bike off the ramp." No harm
done, though.

Sylvain Chavanel's stage 19 win has dire consequences for Cofidis
Directeur Sportif Francis van Londersele. He said before the stage if Cofidis wins it he will get rid of his hair. Londersele said that "I think my wife may not be too happy..."

60km remaining from 143km

We finally get a glimpse of Cadel Evans. He speeds by quickly and re-integrates in the anonymity of the bunch. We can understand that Evans doesn't feel as much as the others to joke around.

The bunch hits a traffic island in Igny. The gendarmes wave their yellow flags and whistle to warn the riders. But the pace is still relaxed and they have no trouble to make it around. Marcus Burghardt (Columbia) nonetheless points out the traffic circle to the riders behind him. That was nice!

Barloworld team manger Claudio Corti wasn't sure what to expect in today's finale. "We will have to see if there will be a sprint first," he told Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown. "The race has been difficult up until today. True, there are a lot of riders who recovered.

65km remaining from 143km

The relaxed bunch passes Massy. There are no sprints until the Champs Elysées. So for now the pace stays relaxed. The first sprint is with 44 kilometres to go. The second is 24.5 km to go. Both are likely to go to breakaways.

The bunch is sort of reaching the outskirts of Paris. They sort of could see the Tour Eiffel, if they had a blimp. Instead, they look at each other and enjoy all the fans out on the road.

Aha, Evans can smile after all. The Lotto captain rides along and jokes with Carlos Barredo to his left. Then he turns to his right and encounters Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Chipotle - H30). The sun is lighting up the Aussie's face. Second ain't bad, even if one sets out to win the Tour. It is no computer game, after all.

69km remaining from 143km

Yaroslav Popovych (Silence-Lotto) also smiles. The team was a bit less happy with the Ukrainian. They will look to strengthen the team for next year, according to directeur sportif Marc Sergeant.

Another castle. There really isn't a lack of them. This time it is the château de Sceaux. Inside, you will find the Emusée de l'Île-de-France, a museum of local history. Île-de-France is the name of the dépavement in which Paris lies. It means the Island of France.

Columbia has already won a lot. Bernhard Eisel, who will miss winning the last place in the overall, sent a warning to his rivals, via Cyclingnews' Gregor Brown. "Today, the team has a good chance with Ciolek. His form is coming up. I think he has a really really good chance to win today."

75km remaining from 143km

CSC has hit the front and the pace picks up. Traditionally, the team of the yellow jersey gets to ride into Paris first. Burghardt has a good trick to slow the pace down. He rides up to the front and shakes hands with Stuart O'Grady. The Aussie gets distracted for a moment.

A few more kilometres and the riders officially enter Paris. The police has put 15 kilometres of barriers up on the circuit that the riders have to fully tour seven times. Each lap is six and a half kilometres long.

78km remaining from 143km

O'Grady leads the bunch downhill. An S-turn forces him to slow down a bit. He signals back to the riders behind with his right hand. That puts everyone on alert mode, usually avoiding crashes, like this time.

It is like the inhabitants of the outskirts of Paris don't have anything else to do on this sunny Sunday. Lots of people out there. What a party it is!

Sylvain Chavanel (Cofidis) said before the start that "I am proud of my Tour. I did a great race. It was magnifique. I also won the super combative prize of the Tour. I will get to go to the podium."

The pace has picked up, but it is still CSC on the front. A motor boat on the Seine tries to keep up. The bunch goes under one of the many bridges. Bouygues Telecom passes the Paris offices. Almost home now.

Robert Springer in Wisconsin (where Superweek is really close, one more race to go) tells us: "With Carlos Sastre's impending win at the Tour, it will be the first
time since the 1950's that one country's riders will win the Tour three
years in a row with three different riders:

87km remaining from 143km

O'Grady leads the bunch through a tunnel. The celebrations are over soon and the racing will start. Over 50km to go and not much more than an hour. Maybe less!

Cadel Evans is riding close to the front as the riders approach the circuit.

89km remaining from 143km

Rue de Tivoli, passing the Ferris wheel!

91km remaining from 143km

Passing the flamme rouge for the first time.

CSC leads the bunch over the finish line. Seven more laps. Many riders are waving. There is still truce in the bunch.

The bunch rides up the Champs-Elysées, watching the Arc de Triomphe.

It is uphill here, which will be decisive for the sprint, just before the turnaround.

And of course it is Cofidis that attacks! But it's not Chavanel. It is St

94km remaining from 143km

But the peloton catches up. They are not ready yet to let something go.

95km remaining from 143km

The bunch takes a right, passing a fountain on their left. Riders are struggling at the back already. Voeckler and Van Summeren are hanging on for dear life.

Xavier Florencio (Bouygues Telecom) attacks, entering the tunnel that is on the circuit first. He goes down in a and comes back up first as well. A left and they pas the Ferries Wheel again. You get the picture.

CSC is still leading the bunch. Florencio gets company by Iv

97km remaining from 143km

They pass the finish line for the second time.

The gap is small, less than 100m. On the other hand, the speeds are high. Both leaders ride in the gutter, to avoid the bad pavement.

The barriers are about 1.50m back from the road, except for the VIP tent of PMU. That is where the two remaining sprints take place.

101km remaining from 143km

The gap stays at less than 100m. The two Spaniards will gave a hard time to stay ahead. But Zabel lost his first chances to make ground on Freire.

Van Summeren has a flat. It is the second rider with one, after S

102km remaining from 143km

Guti and Florencio are caught.

A group of five or six emerges out of the tunnel with a lead of some 50m.

104km remaining from 143km

A couple of more riders have caught up, but for now the gap stays at a manageable 50m.

With the flag-waving, picture-snapping fans it is a good idea to put the barriers away from the road.

The bunch is single file in the gutter up towards the Arc de Triomphe.

108km remaining from 143km

CSC has taken control again as the riders speed down the Champs.

Jason asks "By 'Ferries Wheel', do you mean 'Ferris Wheel', named after the man who built the first one, George Ferris, Jr.?

The bunch passes the Ferris Wheel once again. It is currently at a standstill.

The duo has 150m over the CSC-led bunch. They cross the line for the fourth time.

112km remaining from 143km

Vogondy checks back. The peloton has set up a bit. The formation is not single file, but much wider. Vogondy leads Barredo up the cobbles.

A nice 180 left turn from the duo. But they can't quite match the aesthetics of the 143 other riders as they swing around.

The speeds down the back side are crazy. If you have no plans for next July yet, go see it at least once.

Arrieta can't make headway by himself. He is eight secs ahead of the bunch and ten behind the two leaders.

115km remaining from 143km

Well, Mr. Arrietas, what were you thinking? Jens Voigt blasts by, the bunch in tow, and passes the exhausted Spaniard.

Voigt at the front spells trouble for the Barredo and Vogondy, though. The gap is at 20 secs, and the Ferris Wheel is turning again.

117km remaining from 143km

Voigt pulls of and Gustov takes over as they ride across the Place de la Concorde.

Fifth time across the line and the sprint will come up. Will Zabel try to get two points?

Vogondy out of the saddle as he pulls Barredo and a Gendarme looks on with one eye. The other is targeted towards the crowd, to make sure nothing happens.

118km remaining from 143km

Zabel does not attack and Gustov gets third place and the points. Not that he cares. Barredo led Vogondy over the line. Not that they didn't care, either.

Laurent Lef

He gets others interested, but the peloton stays close.

Cheula tries to give it some speed. He will try to keep it together for Hunter.

Unsurprisingly, Stefan Schumacher is now off the front, together with Tanking, Van Summeren and Cheula.

The gap is only five seconds for now.

123km remaining from 143km

They pass the Place de la Concorde, the gap still small.

And everything is together again. The Garmin team is in the middle of the bunch, riding huddled together. Can Julian Dean deliver today?

125km remaining from 143km

Vogondy is now hanging on the back, trying to recover from his attack. Voigt has taken control again on the front. The motor bike with the TV camera tries to get out of the way of the flying German.

126km remaining from 143km

The turn at the Arc is always fun to watch, but a bit nerve wrecking, too. Few crashes over the years have been reported on that section, though.

CSC is Zipping along. The speeds on the downhill sections are high.

Kanstantsin Siutsou (Columbia) is sitting behind the CSC train. He will try to keep it together for a sprint and Ciolek.

In fact, Siutsou is now pulling away, with Botcharov and a Cofidis rider.

129km remaining from 143km

The trio comes out of the tunnel some 50m ahead of the bunch.

130km remaining from 143km

Noooooo! Robert Hunter has a flat on his brandnew Bianchi. Will he be able to come back at these speeds.

The Cofidis rider is Aug

131km remaining from 143km

The gap is given at six seconds. It is unusual to not see a break get more of a lead. The sprinters must be thinking about when they blew it in stage 3. Or maybe how Vinokourov stole the win in 2005.

The trio looks spent as they take the turnaround the penultimate time.

In fact after the turn Botcharov takes off by himself. By himself he will even have less of a chance.

Botcharov has his mouth wide open, gasping for air. The peloton also has its mouth wide open, ready to eat the Russian.

134km remaining from 143km

And that was it for Botcharov. The sprinters really try to keep it together.

135km remaining from 143km

We don't see any Barloworlders on the front, not a good sign. It is all CSC.

Arnaud Gerard (Fran

He has some 50m as they approach the bell lap.

136km remaining from 143km

Gerard has barely five seconds as the bell rings.

He tries to give it all and goes behind the TV moto, to get some extra draft. With the wind and the uphill it is impossible, though and he gets caught before the turnaround.

138km remaining from 143km

Next to go is another Fran

Around the turn he has not much of a gap. A team-mate tries to break the rhythm, but to no avail.

Gilbert is caught.

139km remaining from 143km

Rabobank takes over at the front.

And another Cofidis attack, of course. Quick Step reacts.

Quick Step sets up the train, as promised.

The Cofidis rider is of course Chavanel. He has about 100m.

Umpf, Jens Voigt was riding too fast for his saddle. It is gone! He sits on his cross bar.

Down in to the tunnel now for the last time!

141km remaining from 143km

Chava is caught

142km remaining from 143km

Garmin is joining the train. One km to go!

Place de la Concorde! Sprinters are set up!

Steegmans goes! He has two length

Quick Step has set it up great, but Ciolek is flying closer.

Steegmans fights on as the finish line comes closer. But Ciolek is strong!

Steegmans does it!

Freire third. Green keeps green!

McEwen was up there, too, as was Haussler and Hushovd.

Well, now everyone should be happy. Quick Step turned its Tour around. Sastre won the front end of the GC and Vansevenant the back end. Another beautiful day in Paris ensured that the riders will leave the 2008 Tour on a high note.

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