Only 164 km to go, and the 2009 Tour de France will be over! Our weary warriors will be happy to hit the Champs Elysées later this afternoon, before Alberto Contador is crowned as this year's victor.
And here we are, back again. 156 riders took the start this afternoon in Montereau-Fault-Yonne before heading northwest to Paris.
The final stage is very traditional: a relaxed ride for the first part of things, with clowning around and champagne. But the mood changes as the field hits Paris. Once those sprinters hit the Champs Elysées, they start flying.
The sun is shining and the jersey wearers ride in a row across the front of the slow-moving peloton
Today's stage is not totally flat, but it may as well be. Not a single ranked climb to be found today, but there are two intermediate sprints, fairly late in the stage.
The peloton has left the city and is now making its way through the countryside, surrounded by wheat (?) fields. And now the neutralized stage is finished and the real race can start.
Attack! Contador breaks out, with a silly grin on his face!
159km remaining from 164km
Naturally he was only out front to give the photographers something to do, and now is back with the others.
Lots of chatting going on: Contador with a Caisse d'Epargne rider, Hushovd with someone from Garmin.
Now, there was an original touch. The village painted red dots on the white lines at the pedestrian crossing on the road. A small salute to the King of the Mountains.
Contador and Hushovd ride ahead of the field, their yellow and green jerseys reflecting the yellow and green of the sunflower field next them. What an opportunity for the photographers!
Germans Sebastian Lang andf Andreas Klöden have quite an involved conversation, while three Lotto riders are at the back of the peloton, discussing something with many gestures.
Armstrong is on yet another new bike. This one is white and decorated with butterflies.
Andreas Klöden enjoys a piece of cake. Guten Appetit! The skinny German sure doesn't need to worry about calories.
Three Italians in special jerseys ride together: national champion Filippo Pozzato, King of the Mountains Franco Pellizotti, and World Champion Alessandro Ballan.
The riders have a long journey behind them, and, no, we don't mean their little jaunt on their bikes the last three weeks. As if climbing Mont Ventoux yesterday wasn't enough, they then had to make their way 700 km north to the start today. But they were able to make it relatively comfortably with the high-speed TGV train this morning.
Fabian Cancellara was taking pictures with his mobile phone, until he had to pull over and take a long look at his bike with a mechanic. Now he is back again, photographing the photographer.
Who will win which jerseys this evening in Paris? Let's take a final look. The Yellow Jersey, of course, goes to overall winner Alberto Contador of Astana. He has only been wearing it the last six days, though. It started out with Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank), who won the first stage and wore yellow for six days. Record-holder for this Tour was Rinaldo Nocentini of AG2R, who wore the jersey for eight stages, in between Cancellara and Contador.
Contador and Andy Schleck put their arms around each other's shoulders for a nice photo of the first and second-placed riders.
The green jersey for the points competition is the only one which could possibly change shoulders today. Going into today's final stage, Thor Hushovd (Cervelo) has 265 points to Mark Cavendish's 230 points. The first green jersey this year went to Cancellara, who wore it for one stage. After that it went back and forth between Cavendish and Hushovd, with the Briton wearing it for eight stages and the Norwegian for 11.
18km remaining from 164km
King of the Mountains is Franco Pellizotti of Liquigas – the man with the long blond curls and the red polka-dots. This jersey has jumped around more than any other in this Tour. Contador won it after the first stage, and it then went to Jussi Veikkanen (FdJ) for four stages. After that, Stephane Auge (Cofidis), Brice Feillu (Agritubel) and Christophe Kern (Cofidis) each wore it for one stage. Egoi Martinez (Euskaltel) was next and was all polka-dotty for 4 stages before Pellizotti took it over for the last eight stages.
Best young rider is the number two in GC, Andy Schleck, who last month turned 24. After the first stage, the white jersey went to Roman Kreuziger of Liquigas, but he only wore it two days before turning it over to Columbia's Tony Martin. The German wore the jersey for 12 stages, with Schleck having it the final six stages.
Number one in the team rankings is Astana. They have had that honour for 13 stages. AG2R was tops five times and Saxo Bank twice.
We had 156 riders at the start this morning, which is quite a lot. That means a lot fewer crashes and illnesses than in past years. The next highest number of riders going into the final stage was 155 in 2005. The lowest in a “regular” year was 128 in 2000. 1998 saw only 96 riders making the final trek to Paris, but you may remember, that was a very irregular Tour.
Is Lance Armstrong happy to finish third, instead of his usual first? You betcha. "I can't complain," said Armstrong after the stage. "For an old fart coming in here and getting on the podium, [it's] not so bad." More here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/armstrong-claims-tour-podium-after-three-year-absence
Do you want to refresh your memories of the last three weeks here in France? Read about what happened and look at the pretty pictures that CN's Rich Tyler put together at www.cyclingnews.com/news/23-days-in-france-look-back-at-this-years-tour
Is there rivalry between Mark Cavendish and Thos Hushovd? (Now there's a dumb question!) The two, who will never be close friends we dare say, aren't about to give up an inch to the other.
They were together in the gruppetto in yesterday's Mont Ventoux stage, and what did they do when the finally arrived at the finish line, some 25 minutes after winner Garate? They sprinted, of course, gaining seven seconds on the rest of the group.
Cavendish won the sprint over Hushovd, as has been the pattern this Tour. Unfortunately for the pair there were no more points left to be given out to the 104th and 105th places.
Cancellara seems to be an exceptionally good mood today. Right now he is talking with Garmin's Christian Vande Velde, waving his arms and smiling.
Former Tour winners Armstrong and Carlos Sastre ride side-by-side for a chat. Perhaps discussing what it is like to ride a Tour they are not winning?
One of the discoveries of this year's Tour has to be young Tony Martin of Columbia HTC. The 24-year-old was in the Top Ten for a long time, and wore the white jersey of the best young rider for 12 stages. But of all his feats in this, his Tour debut, none is more impressive than his second-place finish atop Mont Ventoux on Saturday. And he was rewarded for that with the recognition of being the most aggressive rider on the stage.
Yesterday's winner was “Juanma” Garate of Rabobank. “If we could have picked out one stage of the Tour that we would have liked to win, then it would surely be this one,” according to Rabo's Grischa Niermann.
Niermann felt sorry for his fellow German, Tony Martin, who finished second, but as he pointed out, “we needed this stage win a lot more than Columbia did.”
The fashion trend at this year's tour seems to be mustaches. We notice qutie a numer of peloton members today with that kind of face fuzz.
It's Champagne time for Astana! They certainly deserve to drink a toast to their performance this year.
114km remaining from 164km
Cavendish has continued to show that he is the fastest man in the peloton this year, adding five stage wins (so far) to the four from last year. That gives him a total of nine Tour stage wins in only three Tours, and just think, he is still only 24 years old.
With his fifth stage win on Friday, he set a new national record for most Tour stage wins by a Briton.
Fränk Schleck tried his best to get up on the podium with younger brother Andy, but was unable to get around Lance Armstrong and Bradley Wiggins (Garmin). He was able to claim fifth place, though. There's more about that here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/schleck-gives-ventoux-fight-but-misses-tour-podium
The Lanterne Rouge, or last rider n GC is FdJ's Yauheni Hutarovich. He is celebrating that fact with a red hand towel stuck in the back of his helmet, and a big smile on his face. He may be last, but he is finishing the race!
Andy Schleck knew it would be hard to beat Contador on Mont Ventoux and take over the Tour lead, and it did indeed prove to be an impossible task. But 2010 is another year Luxembourger has his eye on the top of the podium then. Read about it at: www.cyclingnews.com/news/schleck-concedes-defeat-to-contador-after-ventoux
The peloton is passing through a pretty forest. If we are not writing much about the race, it is because nothing is happening. Lots of talking going on, with many of the groups made up of teammates or those from the same country.
Franco Pellizotti has been named the most aggressive rider overall in the Tour. The Italian won the King of the Mountains jersey. Race director Jean-Francois Peschaux says it came down to Pellizotti, Andy Schleck and Jurgen van den Broeck, with Pellizotti getting the final nod.
Team Quick Step has just announced that Steven De Jongh is retiring the end of this season. “I'll turn 37 this year and it's time to focus more on my private life and on my two kids,” he said. The Dutch rider has been a pro for more than 15 years and has over 50 career wins.
Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) gave notice that he is to be a factor in upcoming Tours. He is another 24-year-old who is shining in the Tour this year. You can read more about him here: www.cyclingnews.com/news/nibali-set-for-seventh-spot-in-this-years-tour-de-france
Contador has grabbed a Spanish flag and ties it around his neck like a Superman cape.
We had two Japanese starters in this year's Tour de France and we will have to Japanese riders finishing the race today in Paris: Yukiya Arashiro (Bbox Bouygues Telecom) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Skil-Shimano). Going into todays stage, Arashiro was 130th and Beppu was 112th.
According to the French national anti-doping agency, 15 of the top 20 riders from the 2008 Tour will have their doping controls re-checked. Results aren't expected until October., and of course no names were mentioned.
Did you know there were other races going on? The women were in action in the Thüringen Rundfahrt. Fabiana Luperini won the final stage today, but the overall win went to Linda Villumsen of Team Columbia.
75km remaining from 164km
Skil-Shimano has been very active in its Tour debut, often represented in escape groups. Yesterday it was the turn of Albert Timmer, 24, who had been sick earlier in the week. He said there was no one from the Dutch Professional Continental team in the group when it formed, so he went for it. “It was a beautiful day to be in the lead grop. All those people along the way, it gave me chills.”
Timmer finished 46th on the day, about six and a half minutes down.
Over in Germany, Columbia's Thomas Lövkvist won the final stage of the International Sachsen Rundfahrt, while Patrik Sinkewitz (PSK Whirlpool) won the overall. Sinkewitz is returning from a one-year suspension for using testosterone, and his success was not popular with the rest of the peloton.
68km remaining from 164km
Ah, we might actually have a race today after all! Astana has taken over the lead work in the peloton, as we slowly approach Paris.
The 2009 Tour de France was one for Rabobank to forget. Giro champion Denis Menchov was unable to do anything and crashed constantly. Young hopeful Robert Gesink had to drop out with a broken wrist in the fifth stage. Three-time World Champion Oscar Freire couldn't win a sprint.
And then “Juanma” Garate won on Mont Ventoux Saturday and save the day for the Dutch team, much to everyone's relief. You can read more about it at www.cyclingnews.com/news/juan-manuel-garate-saves-tour-de-france-for-rabobank
How did Garate see his win yesterday? “I had already won stages in the Vuelta and the Giro. The Tour was a goal and a dream. A real dream. In the clouds, because you do not get many chances, and then suddenly on Mont Ventoux....”
Another rider who has definitely made his name in this tour is Jurgen van den Broeck. In fact, his team has said that he will be captain or co-captain at the Tour next year.
The 26-year-old isn't swayed by all the talk of how good he is. “I still live and work as I always have.” And as to his future: “There is no urgency.”
We're in Paris! Hopefully something will start happening soon.
Niki Terpstra of Milram says that his team has already starting celebrating the end of the race. Having survived Mont Ventoux, the run into Paris ought to be no problem. And how did the German ProTour team celebrate last night? With a stop at McDonalds. “After three weeks of French pasta, an unhealthy hamburger is wonderful!”
Yesterday was only the eighth time that a stage has finised atop the Mont Ventoux, and Garate is the first Spaniard to win there. The previous winners were Raymond Poulidor (1965), Eddy Merckx (1970), Bernard Thevenet ('72), Jean François Bernard (1987), Marco Pantani (2000), and Richard Virenque (2002).
The peloton approaches the finish line for the first – but not the last – time. Things should start hapenning now!
Astana leads the way before huge crowds on a beautiful sunny day in Paris.
Tom Boonen did not have his best Tour ever – and isn't that an understatement! He had to go to court to be allowed to start, and it may not have been worth the effort. He never finished any higher than 16th, and eventually had to drop out with intestinal problems that had dogged him the whole time.
The Quick Step rider is doing better again now. "The day before yesterday I started training again. I feel good, although I was a little bit tired yesterday. Normally that will be ok in the upcoming days", he said.
114km remaining from 164km
The first three riders try to escape, but are soon caught by the fast flying field.
A group of seven has a slight lead now
The group includes Wegmann (Milram), Beppu (Skil) and Barredo (Quick Step).
Columbia has taken over the lead work. Gosh, wonder why....
Our lead group is: Jussi Veikkanen (FdJ), Arnaud Coyot (Caisse d'Epargne), Samuel Dumoulin (Cofidis), Alexandre Pichot (Bbox), Carlos Barredo (Quick Step), Fabain Wegmann (Milram) and Fumiyuki Beppu (Skil-Shimano). They have a 15 second lead over the peloton.
No intermediate sprint points for either Hushovd or Cavendish, as the escape groups takes the points.
Maxime Monfort leads with the whole Columbia team at the head of the peloton. Hushovd is directly behind Cavendish.
38km remaining from 164km
The field goes over the finish line again and off they go for another round.
Mechanical for a Silence-Lotto rider. This is not a good time.
Two Katusha riders take off in pursuit of the escape group.
The two chasers are 20 seconds back, with the peloton at 35 seconds.
35km remaining from 164km
That was a short-lived attack by Ignatiev and Trussov. They are already back in the peloton.
Lots of Norwegians along the way here, with flags. Who are they rooting for?
The leaders cross the finish line, and have four more rounds to go.
The group took the points in the last intermediate sprint of this year's Tour, with Barredo ahead of Wegmann.
The chase continues, with Columbia keeping an eye on things. The gap has crept up to 33 seconds.
Down into the tunnel for the leading group.
The escapees head to the finish line again. Now there really are only four rounds to go.
A Lampre man tries to get away, and has five seconds on the peloton led by Kim Kirchen.
The lead group goes around the hairpin curve and heads back the opposite direction.
The Arc de Triumphe looms in the background.
Round and round and round they go....
18km remaining from 164km
The gap continues to fall as they all cross the finish line again. Three more laps to go.
The hairpin turn again for the lead group.
The unlikely twins, Cavendish and Hushovd, are together near the front. The Dane is tight on the Briton's rear wheel.
The Number One is near the end of the field, Carlos Sastre.
In and out of the tunnel the field goes.
12km remaining from 164km
Yet again over the finish line. Two more rounds, and the gap is down to 12 seconds.
Columbia's dogged work is paying off as the gap melts away.
The escapees aren't givng up, though. They are speeding along in perfect formation.
154km remaining from 164km
Milram moves to the front as there are only 10 km to go.
Mechanical for Michael Rogers of Columbia.
7km remaining from 164km
Vaikennan, Beppu and Wegmann maintain a slight lead as the other four are caught.
6km remaining from 164km
The last time over the finish line, and they set off on the last lap!
Two Garmin riders and Flecha attack but are caught, as are the three leaders.
Cervelo moves to the front, behind Cavendish and Hushovd.
Garmin builds a train for Farrar.
2km remaining from 164km
Everyone tearing along!
Garmin at the head of the peloton as they go through the tunnel for the last time.
Last km, and Columbia tears away. Hincapie pulls for Cav.
The peloton torn apart by this speed. Renshaw leads out and Cavendish pulls away and away and away!
An unbelieveable win for Cavendish!
Renshaw and Cavendish shot out of the last corner and accelerated away like rockets. Cavendish took off and won more than easily. Renshaw was second. One could hardly call it a mass sprint!
And let us not forget the big winner today: Alberto Contador! The Spaniard takes his second Tour de France title.
A dramatic end to an interesting race: the return of Lance Armstrong, the climb up Mont Ventoux, the dominace of sprinter Cavendish.
Here's our Top Five for this year's Tour de France:
1 Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Astana
2 Andy Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
3 Lance Armstrong (USA) Astana
4 Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Garmin - Slipstream
5 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Team Saxo Bank
The Top Five on this stage:
1 Mark Cavendish (GBr) Team Columbia - HTC
2 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Team Columbia - HTC
3 Tyler Farrar (USA) Garmin - Slipstream
4 Gerald Ciolek (Ger) Team Milram
5 Yauheni Hutarovich (Blr) Française des Jeux
Congratulations to Contador, Cavendish and everyone else. Every rider who made it across the finish line Paris today was a winner!
Thanks for joining us for the Tour de France. We hope you enjoyed it.
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