Tour de France Stage 21

20 days have lead up to this moment. 198 riders departed from Dusseldorf, but only 167 remained for the final ride down the Champs-Elysses.

This year’s Tour has been the tightest in years. The podium was separated by 30 seconds heading into Stage 20’s time trial, and after the time trial there was 3 minutes separating the top 5. While it can be argued that the reduced TT miles and the reduced amount of climbing could have contributed to that, many teams brought tactics hardly ever seen at a modern-era Grand Tour.

Spectators and the peloton are used to Team Sky sticking on the front of a race and just dominating. The result might reflect that, but a few teams brought aggressive riding and a breath of new life into the Tour. Sunweb, with Matthews targeting Green and Barguil targeting Polkadot, really put the hurt on some of the lumpier stages to drop Kittel, and made the intermediate sprints a real competition.

AG2R took over from Team Sky on Stage 9 into Chambery and absolutely hammered down the final descent, putting the peloton under the pump as Bardet stormed to a 3rd place overall. Tour debutants Wanty Groupe-Gobert found themselves in the break for 1350km this year, and really put their name out there as a tour team and not just a classics team. And with Contador dropping time early, he and his Trek teammate Mollema made some stunning 1-2 attacks with little pressure, and made for some intriguing racing in the mountains.

There were 14 different stage winners from 11 different nations over this year’s Tour. Marcel Kittel went one better than Cavendish last year and took out 5 stage wins, while Matthews and Barguil were the only other riders to get multiple stage wins. Team Sky also lost the Yellow Jersey for the first time in their 5-year history at the Tour. In previous years, once Team Sky gained Yellow, they never lost it. Thomas gave it to Froome on top of La Planche des Belles Filles, but after being distanced into Peyragudes on Stage 12, he gave it up to Astana’s Aru for 2 days. 

The race for the Green Jersey saw Marcel Kittel wear it from Stage 2 after winning in Liege, briefly give it up to Demare on Stage 4, but getting it back on Stage 7. Peter Sagan – the favourite for the Green Jersey – was controversially kicked out by the race jury on Stage 4. Cavendish also abandoned on the same day after breaking his collarbone, which reduced the competition. Demare also finished over the time limit due to illness during the second week, while Kittel crashed on Stage 17 and was forced to abandon. In the end, it was a case of who could stay upright the longest, and Michael Matthews was able to do so. By targeting the intermediate sprints on most of the stages, he slowly clawed his way back into striking distance of the German, and took the jersey into Paris.

Warren Barguil went on a points spree into Chambery for Polkadot, using the 7 categorised climbs on the day, and completely blew the competition out of the water. He attacked from the front, or from the peloton, to get points the whole Tour. On Stage 18 to Izoard, he went solo from the Yellow Jersey Group, caught the remnants of the break, and took the Stage win as well as the 20 HC points on top of the Izoard to secure his Polkadot jersey – not like it was in doubt anyways. This aggressive riding for the points on every stage saw him take France’s 13th Polkadot jersey, and a Green-Polkadot double for Sunweb.

The battle for the White Jersey was between 2 riders the whole Tour. Simon Yates put 35 seconds into Meintjes on the Dusseldorf Time Trial, and while Latour wore white for a couple of days, Yates took it off him on La Planche des Belles Filles and ran away with it. While on the latter mountain stages Meintjes was starting to claw back time and put Yates in difficulty, the buffer Yates built earlier on in the race was enough to secure White. In the final time trial, Meintjes needed over 2 minutes to catch Yates. However, the two rode the course at the exact same pace and posted the exact same time. That time trial confirmed that a Yates was holding White for 2 years in a row, only just a different twin this time around in Simon rather than Adam.

Unfortunately as well, it wouldn’t be cycling without crashes. Richie Porte’s crash got the most headline coverage. On the descent of the Mont du Chat on Stage 9, he missed a blind corner, careered into the grass on the left side of the road, before cutting across the road right into the mountain face. He suffered a broken collarbone and a broken pelvis, and won’t be able to walk for 21 days. Dan Martin was also involved in that crash, but finished the Tour in 6th overall. Mark Cavendish also made the headlines for his crash, being pushed into the barriers by Sagan on Stage 4’s sprint and breaking his collarbone. Stage 1’s Time Trial saw the most crash carnage of the Tour though, with Durbridge, Gallopin, Valverde and Izagirre crashing on the wet roads of Dusseldorf, and only Gallopin remained after 3 days of racing with the others succumbing to their injuries.

The final stage into Paris on the iconic Champs-Elysées saw the traditional parade like ride through the suburbs of the French capital. Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski led the peloton on to the circuits, ending the celebratory drinks, polite chatting, and a marriage proposal from AG2R’s Cyril Guatier that populated the early part of the stage. With the race now on, Orica Scott’s Daryl Impey launched a solo move and was soon joined by fellow time trial specialist Sylvain Chavanel of Direct Energie and German National Champ Marcus Burghardt of Bora Hansgroghe. A larger break formed with Olympic Champ Greg van Avermaet highlighting the move, but the break never had much of an advantage. With 3 laps to go, the breakaway was done. Tony Martin made a move, but was quickly brought back as sprinters teams like Cofidis and Lotto Soudal controlled the race looking for a stage win.

Team Sky did some chase work leading into the bell lap, but a attack by Quickstep’s Stybar forced Bahrain Merida to put all their men at the front to chase. With 3k to go, Katusha Alpecin brought the Czech rider back, setting up their sprinter for Alexander Kristoff. Coming out of the final tunnel and seeing the final kilometer of this year’s Tour de France, no team had a firm control of the leadout. LottoNL-Jumbo positioned Dylan Groenewegen in perfect position around the final corner, with Andre Greipel slightly too far back. Launching a bit early allowed the former Dutch Champ to ride Kristoff off of his wheel. The strength of the Dutchman was no match however as he takes his first ever Tour stage win. Greipel came in less than a bike length behind for second and Edvald Boasson Hagen edged out Bouahnni for third. This marks the first time that Andre Greipel has not taken a stage win at a grand tour. Chris Froome rolled through in the peloton surrounded by teammates, however the grand photo of the whole team together was lacking, though the excitement of the celebration was quite grand with Froome and Kwiatkowski riding home together.

Chris Froome takes his fourth Tour de France victory in five years by 54 seconds ahead of Cannondale-Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran and 2:20 ahead of AG2R’s Romain Bardet.