Who is winning the Tour de France?
Tadej Pogacar effectively sealed his second consecutive overall Tour victory as Wout van Aert won the penultimate stage of the race, the final time trial between Libourne and Saint-Émilion. The GuardianTadej Pogacar set to retain Tour de France title after stage 20 time trial
Wout van Aert shines in race against the clock while Vingegaard makes a statement with third-place ride
He was 21 seconds faster than, Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-QuickStep), who had gotten comfortable in the hot seat. Stefan Küng (Groupama-FDJ) was the first rider to go nine minutes flat at the first time check and was almost 10 seconds faster there than Asgreen, but by the second time check at 20.1km to go was less than a second ahead and he would lose more time by the finish.
Van Aert had the best time at the first time check, then obliterated the best time at the second marker, and took a commanding lead to unseat Asgreen. Only Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) had a hot pace in the warm conditions to get top three times at the time checks to raise eyebrows, and he would finish third on the stage.
Race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), who won the first time trial of this year’s Tour, finished eighth so will hold his GC lead over Vingegaard, in second 5:30 back. Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) finished 23rd on the stage, but continues in third overall.
There were no major disruptions at the top of the GC standings from the time trial, but Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) did overtake Sergio Henao (Qhubeka-NextHash) for 20th overall.
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17 July, 2021 - 11:58am
It’s never a difficult course. The countryside around Paris simply doesn’t have a lot of big climbs, and anyway, it’s never been the Tour’s nature to throw a grueling final stage at the racers. The day always starts with some ceremony to honor the winners, but also every rider who manages to finish. There’s a long neutral rollout, and even after the official race start, there’s not much in the way of attacking.
Instead, riders take their turns at the front for photo opportunities and celebratory clinks of plastic champagne flutes. You’ll see overall leader Tadej Pogačar and his UAE-Emirates team all up front for a group pic (#backtoback), and then you’ll likely see Mark Cavendish celebrating his green jersey and four stage wins. You’ll see celebrations from Bahrain-Victorious, who won the teams classification, and from whomever gets picked for the overall Combativity Award (likely someone like Matej Mohorič or Julian Alaphilippe). Wout Poels and Jonas Vingegaard will probably offer a smile or two in their polka-dot and white jerseys, but it could be a bit forced since they’re basically keeping those warm for Pogačar, who also leads those classifications.
When the pleasantries finish, the real racing will begin. The final stage is somewhat formulaic, but not devoid of interest. You will see:
• A possible early breakaway, likely composed mostly of riders from teams that did not win a stage on Tour. While a break pretty much never survives on the final stage, it’s a last chance to get a sponsor logo on TV.
• The pace will get pretty hot as the riders draw to the center of the city and the eight finishing laps (6.8km each) on the Champs-Élysées circuit, which loops between the Arc de Triomphe and the Jardin des Tuileries. If there’s no early break, then the yellow jersey’s team traditionally leads the pack on the first crossing of the finish line.
• Any early break will get caught, likely on one of the initial circuit laps. There’s an intermediate sprint on the third lap, and it’s possible that BikeExchange will still be trying to take green for Michael Matthews here.
• A second, later breakaway will go in the closing laps. This one won’t get more than 20-30 seconds, max, and will also likely be caught. The pace will be, uh, brisk: 30-35mph.
• The final sprint, with the only-in-Paris bonus of the motorbike-mounted camera that speeds alongside the riders. It’s a cool perspective and one that isn’t possible on other stages. Of note: race organizers have moved the finish line roughly 300 meters farther up the Champs from the last corner (more on that in a moment).
This one’s going to be all about the sprint finish. The Tour has now finished on the traditional Champs circuit for 47 straight years (with the exception of the 1989 time trial, which also finished here, but not as a circuit). Since the Tour moved to the Champs circuit in 1974, only six times has the stage seen a breakaway rider win, and just three times since 1980 (including American Jeff Pierce in 1987). The most recent was Alexandre Vinokourov in 2005.
So if it’s all about the sprinters, it’s all about Deceuninck – Quick-Step’s Mark Cavendish, winner of four stages already and tied with the legendary Eddy Merckx (at 34) for most Tour stage wins all-time. To take the record outright, he faces a group of rivals whittled by attrition over the past three weeks; roughly half the sprinters who started in Brest have gone home due to injuries, time cuts, or other objectives (the Olympics, for Mathieu van der Poel).
His biggest challengers will likely be Matthews, Alpecin-Fenix’s Jasper Philipsen and Jumbo-Visma’s Wout van Aert. Dark-horse contenders include André Greipel (Israel Start-up Nation), Cees Bol (DSM) and Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty). Greipel has announced he’s retiring after this season, so he’ll be extra motivated to repeat his 2016 victory on the Champs, his last at the Tour.
With the finish line coming 300 meters later, that will change tactics slightly. In previous years, with just 400 meters to the line from the last corner, positioning was crucial: riders had to be in the first 5-10 riders onto the Champs to have a shot at the win. Now, with almost twice that distance, and on a slightly uphill stretch, riders can come from a little farther back, trying to capitalize on a longer leadout and waiting to launch their final kick. Every sprinter in the race has doubtless strategized over this change, but how it plays out will be fascinating to see.
As for the green jersey: if (big if) Matthews somehow manages to nab 5-10 net points over Cav in the intermediate sprint, then it sets up a possible sprint showdown for green. Matthews is currently 35 points back of Cav in the points standings. A win would net 20 (the winner gets 50 points, second place gets 30, and third place gets 20).
It’s an exceedingly slim chance; only four times has the jersey changed hands on the final stage, and each time the gap prior to the stage was only a handful of points. Matthews would need to essentially win the intermediate sprint with Cav notching no better than third, and then win the stage, with Cav again no better than third. It’s mathematically possible, so we’ll mention it, but it hasn’t happened all Tour and almost certainly won’t here.
The Tour almost always has a marathon transfer to Paris the morning of the final stage, and this year is no different: 600km by plane from Bordeaux. So it starts late: 10:15 a.m. Eastern. Unless you want to watch the festivities part of the stage, it’s probably not worth tuning in until they enter the finishing circuits, at noon Eastern. You’ll catch the late break, any Matthews-Cav fireworks in the intermediate sprint, and of course the finish itself, just after 1 p.m. ET.
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