Dylan Groenewegen sprinted from a long way out but did everything right to win the final stage of the 2017 Tour de France.  Groenewegen got the better of Andre Greipel and Edvald Boasson Hagen as he took his biggest ever stage win.  Chris Froome finished safe and out of trouble to win his fourth Tour de France in front of his wife and son.

The final stage of the 2017 Tour de France kicked off with almost everything decided.  The 103km stage from Montgeron to the Champs-Elysees began with the customary champagne for Team Sky and Chris Froome, the smiling faces, the slow pace in the peloton, and an opportunity for Yoann Offredo of Wanty-Groupe Gobert to attack and get just far enough ahead to stop and greet friends of his home village which found itself on the route of the final stage.  Chris Froome was all smiles on his yellow bike, with his team enjoying the accolades as they raced towards their fifth Tour de France title of the decade; with four for Froome and the first for Bradley Wiggins in 2012.

Offredo and Impey kick off attacks

As is the tradition of the Tour de France, Team Sky made their way up to the front of the peloton with plenty of road remaining before the race reached the Champs-Elysees.  But having reached the front the question then had to be asked, would Team Sky contest the intermediate sprint in order to gain the bonus seconds needed to overtake Romain Bardet and secure third place overall for Mikel Landa; who started the stage in fourth place by just 1 solitary second.

With 58km to go Michal Kwiatkowski led the peloton onto the Champs-Elysees for the first time, and from there the speed in the peloton ramped up as expected.  But what was unexpected was how early the attacks would begin.  Almost straight away the attacks went up the road, with Yoann Offredo on the attack once again.  The first to gain proper daylight though was Daryl Impey of Orica-SCOTT who gained a few seconds over the rest of the small group who were in between the South African and the bunch.

With 51km to go Impey was caught by a small group of riders including Quick-Step Floors’ Julien Vermote, Direct Energie’s Sylvain Chavanel and Astana’s Alexey Lutsenko.  They were chased by another handful of riders as behind them the peloton was led by delegates from Team Sunweb, Cofidis and Trek-Segafredo.

Dion Smith makes breakaway

As the race passed through the first lap the gap was sitting at about 16 seconds.  The official composition of the breakaway was Michael Schär of BMC Racing, Daryl Impey, Alexey Lutsenko, Julien Vermote, Imanol Erviti of Movistar, Marcus Burghardt of Bora-Hansgrohe, Niels Porritt of Katusha, Sylvain Chavanel, and none other than Dion Smith of Wanty-Groupe Gobert.  The Kiwi’s story was remarkable, having begun the year with Continental level team ONE Pro Cycling, to being a very late call up to Wanty-Groupe Gobert, then being a late call up to one of the wild card entries of the Tour, to being in a breakaway on more than one occasion during the race; and finally having the freedom to get into the breakaway on the final stage of the Tour de France.

While the breakaway began to build an advantage that crept its way up to 22 seconds with less than 45km to go, the rain began to fall, making the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees very slippery.  With 41km to go the intermediate sprint was about to arrive, while the first significant mechanical incident took place, with Warren Barguil suffering a puncture.  After remounting and then nearly suffering a crash as he bumped the rear end of his team car, the king of the mountains eventually made his way back into the main field as the peloton continued to chase the breakaway who still enjoyed a 16 second lead as they passed through the finish line with 5 laps to go.

As the peloton rattled and rolled their way along the Champs-Elysees LottoNL-Jumbo, Dimension Data and Luke Rowe of Team Sky all showed their presence alongside Cofidis at the front of the race.  The gap was still holding at a reasonable 20-25 seconds for the breakaway and for Dion Smith.  They weren’t expected to get any more of a lead in such a short stage, and with the sprinters desperate not to miss out again.  With 20.5km to go and 3 laps to race the gap was 14 seconds.

Gap closes to peloton as sprint teams build up

Lotto Soudal hit the front of the race with Thomas De Gendt once again on the front of the main field; a more than familiar sight in this year’s Tour.  Team Sky and Team Sunweb were poised behind them, although there were a number of other riders supporting the chase including Primoz Roglic of LottoNL-Jumbo and Steven Cummings of Dimension Data.

With 18km to go the gap dropped to below 10 seconds for the first time as the pressure for the breakaway began to show.  Dion Smith was still doing well to keep pace with the front runners, of whom Julien Vermote was most certainly one of them.  The Belgian who was so accustomed to driving the pace in the peloton was now driving the breakaway and really putting the rest of the move under pressure.  The gap did creep up to over 10 seconds again though as the race passed through 16km to go.

With two laps remaining the tension appeared to be risin gin the bunch as the pack raced along at upwards of 50kph.  The gap was still holding at 10 seconds or so but the catch appeared imminent for the leaders.  Finally with 12.4km to go Dion Smith was dropped from the move, just as Tony Martin of Katusha-Alpecin made a move himself.  Martin dragged company along with him though, first in the form of Greg van Avermaet and then in the form of the rest of the peloton who were just metres behind the break with 10km remaining.  

Stybar tries to deny fast men but no dice

With Team Sky leading the peloton the catch was finally made and with 8km to go the question now became more about whether anyone would try and launch a late attack, or whether the sprinters would now be permitted to contest the sprint unchallenged.  The bell lap had Team Sky on the front of the race setting a strong pace with Michal Kwiatowski leading the way as a late attack did indeed go clear courtesy of Astana’s Dmitriy Gruzdev launched a last ditch attack.  The Kazakh rider had a reasonable advantage but an attack from Zdenek Stybar of Quick-Step Floors launched a counter move and with 5km to go found himself out on his own.

Around the Arc de Triomphe the Czech rider had a decent advantage but the sprinters’ teams were beginning to move forward en masse.  Bahrain-Merida now took over the pace setting, but they had more than 100m to make up on Stybar with 4km to go.  Katusha-Alepecin now took on the pace-setting, and were challenged by Cofidis.  With Team Sunweb also coming up Stybar’s days were numbered at the front; and with 2.6km to go he too was caught.

Groenewegen denies Greipel and claims biggest ever win

With 2km to go Scott Thwaites of Dimension Data hit the front, Trek-Segafredo also were there.  At this point the green jersey of Michael Matthews looked to be too far back to challenge the sprint.  But plenty could change.  With 1km left Andre Greipel was also a little out of position.  Katusha-Alpecin led the way as Alexander Kristoff and Nacer Bouhanni looked to have the best positions.  Finally Andre Greipel came foward just in time, and so too did Matthews.  Out of the final corner Dylan Groenewegen led the sprint out for LottoNL-Jumbo.  Andre Greipel and Edvald Boasson Hagen were challenging, but despite having led out from a long way out the young Dutchman had done enough to secure the win.

Andre Greipel was closing quickly, but he was closing just a little too late.  Greipel could only vent his frustration as he faced the fact that for the first time since 2008 he’d failed to win a stage in a grand tour that he’d started.  Boasson Hagen finished third and Nacer Bouhanni fourth ahead of Alexander Kristoff.  But it was Dylan Groenewegen, at just 24 years of age, who crossed the line in seeming disbelief that he’d won the stage; the biggest win of his career.

The final general classification confirmed that Chris Froome had won the Tour de France by 54 seconds ahead of Rigoberto Uran, with Romain Bardet third, 1 second ahead of Mikel Landa.  Fabio Aru completed the top 5 with Daniel Martin 6th ahead of best young rider Simon Yates.  Yates’ rival Louis Meintjes took 8th, with Alberto Contador 9th ahead of the king of the mountains and most aggressive rider of the Tour de France Warren Barguil.


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