In one of the few stages of this year's Tour de France with no real surprises, the final day of racing culminated with Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) winning the overall classification while Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) netted a second bunch sprint victory.
The largely-ceremonial final stage exploded into life with the multiple laps of the Champs-Élysées before an utterly-predictable mass dash for the line became inevitable in the closing kilometres.
Philipsen's win was taken ahead of Dylan Groenewegen (BikeExchange-Jayco) in second and Alexander Kristoff (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) in third. Second in the overall was 2021 champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), with 2018 Tour winner Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) in third.
The only sprinter to enjoy repeat victories in the Tour this year, Philipsen's second win of the 2022 race was preceded by Groenewegen's sustained drive up the left-hand side of the slightly rising finishing straight in France's most famous avenue.
However, it only briefly looked as if the Dutchman's mission to claim his second bunch sprint win on the Champs-Élysées might have a chance of success.
Groenewegen was seemingly helpless to prevent Philipsen from first shadowing and then easily overhauling him with a perfectly timed and ferociously steady acceleration in the centre of the Champs, while Kristoff, another former winner at this finish, claimed a distant third.
How it unfolded
Given the way that his attacks and racing have provided so much character to the 2022 Tour de France, it felt almost inevitable that even on the traditionally-sleepy first segment of the final stage, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) should provide a last reminder of his love of stirring things up with an early dash off the front.
Equally predictably, Pogačar stormed after the Belgian, quickly followed by Vingegaard, only for Van Aert to sit up with an enormous grin on his face. This was no prelude to a repeat of overall winner Bernard Hinault and Joop Zoetemelk's duel on the Champs Élysées of 1979, then, just Van Aert's jokey start to a good-humoured early segment of the stage.
In what effectively became a two-wheeled photo shoot on the 115-kilometre stage taking the riders in from the Paris business district of La Defense to the usual finish on the Champs-Élysées, team after team took their turn on the front of the slowly pedalling bunch for the cameras.
One of the most striking images came when Jumbo-Visma displayed the numbers of their missing teammates, Primož Roglič, Steven Kruijswijk and Nathan Van Hooydonck. Whilst clinking the champagne glasses, they also celebrated being the first team in 25 years to take both green and yellow, as well as the King of the Mountains title courtesy of Vingegaard.
Others to come to the front as the peloton ambled along at the slowest average speed by far of this year's race included Philippe Gilbert (Lotto Soudal), celebrating his final Tour de France in his last year as a pro.
Three riders, regrettably, did not get to take part in the fun despite completing all the previous three weeks hard labour: Michael Woods and Guillaume Boivin from Israel-Premier Tech quit the race before stage 21 with COVID-19 and stomach issues, respectively, and Gorka Izagirre (Movistar) also was a DNS.
The racing began in earnest on the city centre circuit, tackled eight times before the final sprint along the Champs-Élysées. First up the road was Jonas Rutsch (EF Education-EasyPost). Break after break quickly emerged and almost equally quickly collapsed, with (Dani Martínez (Ineos Grenadiers) joining forces Stefan Bisseger (EF Education-EasyPost), Matteo Jorgensen (Movistar) and Jan Tratnik (Bahrain Victorious) in one of the most dangerous combines, that swelled to almost a dozen riders at one point before imploding.
With some 30 kilometres to go, yet another interesting move briefly formed as Groupama-FDJ duo Antoine Duchesne and Olivier Le Gac joined Owen Doull and Jonas Rutsch (both EF Education-EasyPost) and Max Schachmann (Bora-Hansgrohe), eking out a 22-second lead.
The five finally created a move that stuck, even if the hot pursuit by Lotto Soudal and Team DSM hardly augured well for their chances. And with a margin of 12 seconds at 10 kilometres to go, there was hardly much room for optimism.
In the final 7 kilometres, Schachmann and Rutsch were reeled in, just as the bell sounded for the last lap, but a brief acceleration by Pogačar, followed by Filippo Ganna and Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) on the opposite side of the road, provided another reminder of the Slovenian's attacking spirit throughout this Tour and hinted at his plans for 2023..
At this point though, Trek-Segafredo, Bahrain Victorious and QuickStep-AlphaVinyl massed again at the front and squashed the last minute breakaway efforts. Then it was up to BikeExchange-Jayco to claim the final front spots in the last kilometre only for Philipsen to steal the show from the Australian squad.
Jumbo-Visma, meanwhile, collectively eased back to cross the line as a team and celebrate the last few metres of the race in style, even at the cost of losing a few seconds on GC that they and their leader Vingegaard could amply afford.
The ferocious final bunch sprint completed one of the most memorable Tours of recent years, with Vingegaard celebrating his first overall victory, Pogačar determined to fight back in the Julys to come, and Van Aert providing a stunning display of versatility throughout the three weeks. Roll on 2023!
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