This is a guest post by Mr.Q, a professional quizmaster and an ardent Tour de France fan who is reporting his 4th tour
Just as I had predicted in my last post,Mark Cavendish of Team Sky won the last stage of this year’s tour on the Paris Champs-Élysées in his inevitable style, repeating the final sprint, just like what he had done in last three years!! In the bargain, he also became the first ever Road Race World Champion to win on the Paris Champs-Élysées. (Me thinks, he will make it to the Olympics Gold Medal also)
No man has won four consecutive sprints on the Paris Champs-Élysées, and today with his 23rd stage win in the tour, Cavendish just did exactly that. He re-wrote the history books and in doing so, not only became the highest stage winner amongst sprinters of all time, but also became the fourth highest stage winner in the history of the tour.
A very happy Cavendish while speaking to the media after his win, clearly stated what has been on a lot of minds, that his focus is fully fixed on the up coming Olympics in London. “I’m very ready for the Olympics now. Between four of the five guys who are in the Olympic Games squad, there are seven stage wins at the Tour de France so we’re going to have an incredibly strong team and we’re not just going to the Games to see how it goes. We’re fully excited about it and we’ll just wait for next Saturday.”
Sounding ominous, he also rang the warning bell for all contenders for the Olympic Road Race gold medal coming up the next Saturday at London, when he said, “My legs are really good. You’ve seen my sprint is really good and I just like getting to the finish. I’ve got an incredible team to try and do that in London four out of five of us have won stages here… between us we have one out of every three stages of this year’s Tour. As a nation in the cycling world, there’s nothing better than that.”
The 20thand final road stage of the 99thTour de France was from Rambouillet to Paris Champs-Élysées, a distance of just 120kms. Today’s course was not a totally flat one and there were some small climbs, something which, again rode into the favour of the leaders on the board as they all were fresh after a day’s respite from the Pyrenees. For the record 153 riders out of the total 198 riders, who started the tour, finished the full tour. Special mention of Jimmy Engoulvent of Saur-Sojasun, for he finishes the 2012 tour as the Lanterne Rouge, the last placed person on the tour!!
With all the competition for the overall title clearly over, the race started off with lots of bonhomie amongst the major riders. Evans the outgoing champion rode over and congratulated Wiggins on his superb performance and all the four jerseys posed together while riding. Couple of riders did try and attack to see if they could breakaway, but the peloton was having nothing of that sort and soon they were all riding together.
As is tradition, it was the Yellow jersey wearing Team Sky, who rode into the streets o Paris Champs-Élyséesat the front of the peloton. As they started around the race course, which includes 8 full rounds of the streets of Champs-Élysées, George Hincapie of BMC Racing, riding a record 17th and final tour came to the front and rode along with 40 year old Chris Horner of RadioShack-Nissan for a short time, reliving symbolically their final day in the tour. But the action of the day started when another 40 year old, Jens Voigt of RadioShack-Nissan, the oldest rider in the tour this year, riding his 15th tour, jumped the peloton and made off with Danilo Hondo of Lampre-ISD. Together, they rode like mad men possessed and made a small gap over the peloton. Soon a few other riders also joined them, and this group became 11 riders strong. With each rider taking strong turns in the front, and with Voigt pushing them all, soon they built a lead of over 30secs over the Team Sky led peloton.
As the rounds around the circuit started going up and the distance to the finish line decreasing, there was urgency in the peloton to bring the breakaway back into its fold. Liqigas-Cannondale & Orica-GreenEdge also put their riders in the front to pull the escapees back. All this resulted in the gap slowly coming down and it was only in the last round around the circuit, that the breakaway was swallowed by the speeding peloton, with Voigt being the last to fade away into the peloton.
With the catch having been done, it was the Saxobank- Tinkoff bank team which led the peloton out of the Louvre tunnel and around the Norwegian corner, and with under 2kms to go, it was the Yellow jersey of Wiggins, who came to the front in an unprecedented move for a tour winner, to do his ride for his sprinter teammate to be delivered for the final finish. (Unprecedented, for by then technically Wiggins had won the tour, as rule book says that if there is a crash or disruption in the peloton in the last 3km of the race, then even if there are riders who don’t finish the ride and are caught in the crash, they also get the same time as final winner, but most winners in the past have not undertaken this risk!)
It was Wiggins drive at the head of the peloton that, finally stretched the leading sprinters train into a single file. Having done his job, he handed over Cavendish to Edvald Boasson Hagen, who then drove the world champion around the final corner and delivered him into the final straight for his sprint. Just like last year, Cavendish opened his sprint almost 400m before the finish line, and though Mathew Goss of Orica-GreenEdge was on his wheel, and Peter Sagan of Liqigas-Cannondale was also right behind, they could do little, as Cavendish roared down the ramp, stamping his authority and class and showing the whole world, who the fastest man on cycle was. Sagan, who missed the jump made by Cavendish, rode a very strong sprint to claim the second spot beating a fading Goss. The rest of the peloton including Wiggins and his team crossed the finish line seconds later throwing their arms in triumph.
The top 5 on the leader board at the end of the tour are in the order – Bradley Wiggins in the Yellow Jersey, Chris Froome in the second spot, Vincenzo Nibaliin thethird, Jurgen van den Broeck in the fourth and young Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing rounding of the top 5.The Yellow Jersey is won by Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky, while the Green Jersey winner is Peter Sagan of Liqigas Cannondale. The White Jersey is won by Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing team, while Thomas Voeckler of Europcar takes home theKing of the Mountain polka dotted Jersey. Team RadioShack-Nissan,are the best team in the race and Chris Anker Sørensen of Saxobank – Tinkoff Bank wins the most aggressive racer of the tour award, a reward for his consistent attacks in the Alps & the Pyrenees’.
Cavendish talking about the tour & his final sprint win said, “After getting first and second on GC, winning five stages – or, whatever… how many was it before today – it wasn’t going to be an unsuccessful Tour by any means. I’m just happy to get that final win today. We had the whole team on the front and it was an incredible sight.”
Speaking about the support the team has got from the public, he acknowledged that saying, “It was great for British cycling fans to see what they saw today, guys who are first and second on GC in the Tour de France controlling the peloton and the yellow jersey leading it out at the last km and me winning for a fourth time here. I’m incredibly proud of an incredible three weeks that came to a close today. It was a sea of blue, white and red flags and it’s incredible to see that in Paris.”
Yellow Jersey of Bradley Wiggins in his small speech from the winners podium was almost at a loss of words as he said, “My mother over there, her son has just won the Tour de France. Thank you everyone. Cheers. Have a safe journey home and don’t get too drunk”…. Guess, the last words for the British fans!!
Compiling his emotions, he later tried to explain his thoughts, “It’s hard to take in as it happens. Every lap of the Champs-Elysées was goose pimple stuff. We had a job to do with Mark today and we were all motivated to do that so it made it go a lot quicker. The concentration was high and for Mark to finish it off like that… well, it couldn’t get any better. It’s brilliant. But I’m lost for words. It’s a different feeling to 24 hours ago but we’ve come here and we were committed to what we were doing so there was no sense of, ‘Oh, this is it.’ It was so hard once the race started and, right to the end, when I was leading out with a km to go. Right now, at the base of the podium, I’m trying to soak it all in and it’s hard to articulate what I’m feeling. It’s a strange feeling, really – very strange.”
On the fans who kept him going, he said, “Now we’ve come out of our bubble and now we start to realize what it means to all these people who have come over here for the weekend. That turn [near the Arc de Triomphe] was just a sea of Brits and the noise was incredible. It was close to what it was like at the Olympics in Athens when I was coming into the home straight. It’s that kind of feeling. It’s phenomenal. You couldn’t fail to hear it.”
Clearly fixing his priorities, he added, “Tonight I go home. Everything turns to the Olympics and I’ll be out on the bike tomorrow and I’ve got an Olympic time trial to try and win. So that’s a higher priority than anything else. It’s a little weird to leave Paris without a party because it would be nice to spend time with the team and really enjoy it. This has been – as everyone’s seen – such a team effort. Even today, it was an incredible group of guys. I’ve had the privilege to ride with them for the past three weeks; it’s been an absolute honour.”
Chris Froome, the man who came in a strong second, but who could have been first, had he been the team’s unquestioned leader, also expressed his happiness at having reached & achieved the team’s goal. He said, “I’m blown away by what we as a team have achieved these last three weeks as a team; it’s monumental. Also, for a team that’s relatively new to cycling – this is only the third year for Team Sky now – so for us to have two riders standing on the top two steps of the podium on the Champs-Elysées, it’s really something special. Hopefully it’s set the precedent for us going forward in the future.”
On his form coming into the race, he added, “I surprised myself. I knew I had very good condition coming into this race but you never know where your opposition is at and I was never confident that I would be right at the top of the sport. I’m really happy to be in this position and I hope to keep competing like this in the future. On the rumours that he might have to leave Team Sky to win the Tour he stated, “I might not need to change my team to be a winner of the Tour de France. I’d love to win it one day and let’s see… I’ve learned so much this year being right there at the front of the race but not having the pressure of being the leader. I’m going to take that experience away and hopefully learn for the future.
The Green jersey winner Peter Sagan after the race said, “I’m very happy for this Tour de France because it’s a surprise also for me: three stage wins and the green jersey… that’s great. But the future? I’m not thinking about it now. I want to finish this season good. I want to do well in the Olympic Games and the world championships and maybe, afterwards, I’ll start thinking about the Classics.”
With this I will end this post with Wiggin’s statement – “It’s the Tour man, it doesn’t get much bigger than this!”
Watch this space next year for another edition of the tour @TdF 2013…
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