Sunday, 21 July 2013

Tour de France: The Final Stage

So the GC battle is over and the final podium decided and what a race it's been. If at times the 2012 edition snoozed through the mountains and became a bore in the TT's then this year had a bit of everything. Daring attacks, a close battle for the podium, crosswinds, sprint stages and a yellow jersey winner who won three stages and attacked in the mountains. But it's not over just yet, because tonight stage on the Champs Elysées should be quite a bang for the race to go out on...

Chris Froome demolished his opponents this year in a clear display of dominance whilst at the opposite end of the scale Alberto Contador seems to be past his best, slipping off of the podium as he struggled up yesterdays final climb. A new generation of rider has taken the torch and although that's a good thing Froome looks set to dominate for a few years yet and I just hope we don't see a return to the monotonous dominance of the early 2000's. Luckily for us though, Colombian Nairo Quintana has appeared on the world stage in some style.

This Tour was the Colombians first and he find himself second on the podium, leading the young rider classification and wearing the polka dots of the mountains competition. At the age of just 23 it looks like Quintana could have an extraordinary career ahead of him and If there is one personal who might be capable of getting in Froomes way from here on in then it's likely to be this man. A tiny climber with astounding power perhaps he lacks a little in the time trials but it's said that Quintana has recently taken himself into the wind tunnel and if he makes gains here he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Today's stage is the usual flat run in to Paris for the sprinters - and the four big names are still in the race: Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan and of course Mark Cavendish. If it is the usual run in then it does have a big twist - to celebrate the 100th edition of Le Tour the stage will be raced in the evening with riders arriving on the Champs just as the sun sets where there is expected to be a laser and firework display, entertainment, celebration and even rumours of a sequin embossed Yellow Jersey. Usually riders take a U-turn around the Champs but this year the race will extend for a count of laps around the entire length, turning around the Place Charles de Gaulle, through the Arc de Triomphe and back.

Mark Cavendish will want to win this stage and win it badly - he's won this stage for the last four years and on such an occasion as today will like to win it again even more. In recent years there hasn't been much in the way of competition for the final sprint of the Tour but this year will be different - with Peter Sagan in green he will look to finish it off in style whilst Marcel Kittel is in the form of his early life, outsprinting Cavendish in a straight up sprint earlier in the race - he could be the new fastest man on earth and today will likely decide that.

Chris Froome will have his rudimentary glass of champagne as the race leaves Versailles palace and will roll into Paris to be crowned the new Tour de France champion - the second Brit in consecutive years to achieve such a feet only this time it's at a milestone of the Tour's existence - the 100th edition. He's a worthy winner and he's handled the pressure extremely well and if it wasn't for Wiggins last year, in the Olympic year then he would have been quids in for a knighthood and Sports Personality of The Year. (I'm pretty sure Andy Murray will tip him to the post this year.)

A dramatic race will come to a dramatic, and spectacular conclusion around 9:30pm tonight and then it's all over for another year. The post-Tour blues are sure to kick in but don't get too down - it's only a month until the Vuelta a Espana where Grand Tour racing gets underway again...

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