Andre Greipel has won his second Champs-Elysees stage win in two years.  The ‘Gorilla’ was winless in this year’s Tour but he came good on cycling’s most famous finish line, to win the stage ahead of Peter Sagan of Tinkoff and Alexander Kristoff of Katusha.  Chris Froome stayed safe and out of trouble to win his third Tour de France.

Calm before the storm

Photos and handshakes with rivals, chatting with Bernard Hinault, champagne as the race winner and a beer run for his teammates all featured for Chris Froome at the start of the 21st and final stage of the 2016 Tour de France.  It had been a Tour to remember for so many reasons for the Brit who just had today’s processional stage to complete before he was crowned Tour de France winner for the third time.

After ambling along the road, with selfies, pleasant conversation and a general relaxed air that always accompanies the long neutral section of the final stage of le Tour, ‘racing’ got underway one last time for the race with Bernard Hinault – in his last stage with official Tour duties – waving the flag to get things underway.  Peter Sagan, Vincenzo Nibali and delegates from BMC Racing and Tinkoff led the race through the early stages of the race, with Roman Kreuziger taking top honours at the only KOM climb of the day, the Cöte de L’Ermitage, with the competition already wrapped up for Rafal Majka.

For George Bennett, his work in the mountains was now a thing of the past and he would be able to relax as much as possible and just get through this one last hurdle that separated him from his debut Tour de France finish.  Greg Henderson was at the back too for a while, but his Tour role was far from done, as he would look to line up teammate Andre Greipel for that elusive stage win on cycling’s most famous finish line.

The entrance to the Champs-Elysees would arrive with 58.5km covered and from there the race would tackle eight laps of the finishing circuit.  It was expected to be a head-to-head duel between the two big Germans: Andre Greipel vs Marcel Kittel.  But there would be a number of other sprinters equally hungry for the win, with Bryan Coquard of Direct Energie, Alexander Kristoff of Katusha, Peter Sagan of Tinkoff all among the potential stage winners.

As the riders made their way to the 70km to go mark, Team Sky made their customary move.  As the team of the maillot jaune, the boys in black – sporting their custom team kit with a yellow stripe down the middle of their jerseys, and with Chris Froome donning a yellow bike – made their way to the front of the peloton to lead the race onto the Champs-Elysees.  Chris Froome was in the privileged position this year of having every one of his teammates make it to Paris.  The race also was in the privileged position of having 175 riders arrive on the Champs-Elysees together, more than any other edition of the Tour.

Salute to Rodriguez

While Team Sky led the peloton they allowed Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha the special privilege of breaking away to lead the race onto the Champs-Elysees.  It was a touching tribute to the great Spaniard who will retire at the end of his 2016 season.  From there though racing kicked off in earnest and with 53.5km to go Team Sky led the way with Cofidis and AG2R La Mondiale waiting in the wings.

The first attack off the front went clear courtesy of 8 riders.  Direct Energie took control of the pace setting but up front it was a solid group that had established itself early on.  Alexis Gougeard of AG2R La Mondiale, Lawson Craddock of Cannondale-Drapac, Marcus Burghardt of BMC Racing, Daniel Teklehaimanot of Dimension Data, Rui Costa of Lampre-Merida, Jan Barta of Bora-Argon18, Brice Feillu of Fortuneo-Vital Concept and Jeremy Roy of FDJ made up the move and they managed to build a lead of 22 seconds with 45km to go.

Sadly while all the action was going on at the front of the race, at the back of the race Tony Martin became the first rider to abandon the Tour on the final day; sighting a knee injury as the cause of his abandon.  In the peloton Direct Energie continued to lead the way, with Lotto Soudal represented by Thomas De Gendt and keeping close to the front of affairs.  Also keeping a watchful eye on the front of the pack were Tinkoff and BMC Racing, with the yellow jersey of Chris Froome never far from the front either.

Kittel ruled out?

The break’s lead was holding for the time being and even lengthening slightly to 25 seconds with 38 km remaining.  With 36.5km to go Marcel Kittel ran into problems, having to have a bike change and then a wheel change.  The news did not go down well at all for the German sprinter, who threw the offending wheel down to the ground, which proceeded to roll into the wheel of a passing team car.  Kittel was faced with a bit of a mountain to climb as he found himself a full minute behind the peloton.  He had no teammates for company either, making it all but impossible to return to the main field.  However, Kittel decided to throw race rules caution to the wind and draft behind his team car. That draft lasted quite a while but he finally did manage to make contact with the peloton again, but there were a couple of questions to be answered.  Would he be penalised?  How much was his sprint effected?

In the front of the race the number of the break were reduced by one as Marcus Burghardt also became victim of a mechanical problem.  Their lead eventually began to dissipate, falling to 12 seconds with 28.6km to go.  Going through 4 laps to go and less than 27km to go the gap had stabilised again at 15 seconds.  Gradually again the peloton just kept the intensity high enough to bring the break back to 10 seconds with 21,m to go.  Thomas Voeckler led the way for Direct Energie, while back in the tail end of the pack Greg Henderson regained contact with the peloton after a mechanical problem.  There were also problems for Daniel Martin of Etixx-Quick Step, on a day that was quickly appearing like one to forget for Patrick Lefevre’s boys in blue and black; Martin was quickly back chasing though with no significant time loss.

With 19km to go Team Sky of all teams made a cheeky attack with Luke Rowe going off the front of the peloton with teammate Wout Poels!  They managed to bridge the gap to make a group of eight once more, with the advantage being 10 seconds with 17.6km to go.  The addition of the two Sky riders did little to rattle the peloton though who continued to close the gap.  With just a handful of seconds to play with between break and bunch, Daniel Teklehaimanot attacked with Gougeard chasing.  His attack was short lived though as with 14km to go it was break back together, or at least some of the break, with a split in the move disrupting the break still further.

One last attack

With 13.3km to go and 2 laps remaining of the Tour de France Alexey Lutsenko of Astana attacked and went off solo from the bunch.  He was caught by BMC Racing’s Greg van Avermaet, a former stage winner of this year’s Tour.  While the earlier break had now been quashed, these two remained out in front and had a healthy partnership at hand if they could make the most of it.  In the bunch Direct Energie still led but IAM Cycling and Bora-Argon18 were beginning to make a move, with the gap to the two leaders at 7 seconds.

9km from the finish and approaching the final lap it was almost gruppo compacto but the two leaders weren’t done yet.  They managed to withstand the chase and press on under the 1km to go banner and on the run in to the final lap of the race.  IAM Cycling took over the front of the peloton now, with Lotto Soudal making their move towards the front.  The pace was proving too hot for Lutsenko who dropped back, but van Avermaet held on; with his effort finally swept up with 6.4km to go.

IAM Cycling were now the team in control with 5 riders on the front ahead of Direct Energie right behind them.  There was no Lotto Soudal or Etixx-Quick Step at the moment, although the boys in red for Greipel weren’t far away.  Orica-BikeExchange also made a move to position themselves well in the pack.  Trek-Segafredo were also getting involved, and then suddenly Etixx-Quick Step surged through with just over 5km to go.  Around the Arc de Triomphe for the last time the race was all to play for as Cannondale-Drapac also got in on the action.

At the back of the peloton Chris Froome was happy to keep pace with the tail end of the bunch, with George Bennett for company for now.  A crash with just over 3km to go saw a split in the bunch, while up ahead the sprinters got themselves ready for the sprint.  They would get ready, however, without Bryan Coquard who had a flat tyre; ruling himself out of the finishing sprint.  Cofidis, Trek-Segafredo and more were darting at the front of the road with Lotto Soudal beginning to rally at the front.  With 1.8km to go Lotto Soudal hit the front with 5 riders on the front including Greipel.

Lotto Soudal’s masterstroke

It was all about Lotto Soudal as they hit 1km to go with Sagan on Greipel’s wheel.  Greg Henderson pushed on the pace, playing the role of fourth lead out man.  Katusha put in a late surge to sit third and fourth wheel for Kristoff and they hit the front right on the final corner.  Greipel watched and watied though and as Alexander Kristoff hit the front Greipel took his chance.  The big German hit the front and never looked back, and though Peter Sagan was closing fast it was not fast enough.  Greipel took his second win on the Champs-Elysees, Peter Sagan took second place while Alexander Kristoff settled for third.  Edvald Boasson Hagen of Dimension Data took fourth place with Michael Matthews in fifth.

Chris Froome sat back to enjoy the final couple of hundred metres with his teammates, losing a few seconds; but it was of precious little consequence.  Chris Froome had won the Tour de France and waiting for him at the finish line was his wife and baby boy.

Greg Henderson crossed the line 41 seconds behind his teammate, but delighted that he and the boys in red had done their job superbly to claim the win for Greipel.  Greipel’s win today sees him continue his run of success that has seen him win a stage of the Tour ever year since 2011.  George Bennett finished safely 2 minutes behind Greipel and in the company of teammate Robert Wagner.

 

Photo:  Sirotti

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