95th Tour de France
Stage 21 - Etampes to Paris - 143.0 km (89.0 mi)
27 July 2008
The Tour came to a resplendent finale once again on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, with Gert Steegmans of Quick Step claiming a long-sought stage win for the Belgian team after eight circuits inside the city on the famed cobblestones of the promenade. The stage served largely as a ceremonial parade into the capital, with Carlos Sastre and the CSC team trading champagne toasts on the ride toward the city. Everyone was in high spirits, and the group stayed together throughout the ride. Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), assured of a podium placing in the general classification as well as the King of the Mountains crown (and polka-dot jersey), was given the green light to take the points at the top of the fourth-category Cote de Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse with a friendly push from Bernhard Eisel (Columbia). Three kilometers later, at the fourth-category Cote de Chateaufort -- the final categorized climb of the 2008 Tour de France -- Freddy Bichot (Agritubel) sprinted ahead to take the points at the summit ahead of Sebastian Lang (Gerolsteiner) and Marco Manzano (Lampre).
CSC controlled the bunch throughout the stately parade into Paris. With thirty-four kilometers remaining before the Parisien circuits began, French road cycling champion Nicolas Vogondy (Agritubel) broke free with Carlos Barredo (Quick Step) but managed to gain only ten seconds on the field. The two were soon swept up, with Jens Voigt driving the peloton for CSC. Other riders -- including yesterday's time-trial stage winner Stefan Schumacher (Gerolsteiner) -- shot out to attempt their own futile breaks. The peloton would stay together until Paris, covering the ninety-one kilometers into the city and the finishing circuit at a relaxed twenty-seven kilometer an hour pace. Just over three hours after leaving Etampes, the peloton reached the city.
The circuit in Paris begins when the riders ride up to the circuit along the Rue de Rivoli. They cross onto the Champs-Elysees, wrapping around the Louvre and up to the Place de la Concorde before riding up to the Arc de Triomphe. From there they wind back down toward the Tuileries and Louvre, riding around the famous museum again to complete the lap. Every year since 1975, the Tour de France has featured eight laps to finish the race along this 6.5-kilometer route through the heart of Paris. Rarely does it decide the champion of the race, though sometimes it can decide position in the general classification or, more frequently, in the race for the green points jersey among the sprinters still in the field after the three weeks. Most of the time, though, the race is one of prestige -- to win the final stage on the Champs-Elysees is a defining moment in a cyclist's career...
The pressure was up on Steegmans and the rest of the Quick Step riders. The team, winless to date, had suffered mightily by team leader Tom Boonen's indiscriminate use of cocaine in the months before the race. The positive test from an out-of-competition doping control, which due to the substance was unpunishable under WADA and UCI guidelines as cocaine is not banned when a cyclist is not riding, nevertheless led to ASO telling Boonen -- last year's winner of the green jersey, two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix and a former world champion -- to stay in Belgium. With the pronouncement against Boonen coming mere days before the race start in Brittany, Quick Step came to the Tour leaderless and suffered in ignominy without a win... until today.
The team set up the perfect lead-out train for Steegmans in the final kilometers of the race. No breakaways were going to take the stage today. One by one, Quick Step riders peeled off the front as they ramped up the speed to jettison Steegmans to victory. The team worked to perfection, with Matteo Tosatto leading through the final corner before Steven de Jongh put the final acceleration in. Then, alone at last, Gert punched the pedals to emerge ahead of Gerald Ciolek (Columbia) and green jersey winner Oscar Freire (Rabobank). "It's always great to win a stage," Steegmans told the press after the podium presentation. "And it's a bit of a relief, although at the team meeting last night we were all thanked for our efforts during the Tour. Unfortunately [Boonen] wasn't here this year, that left a lot of pressure on me and Stijn [Devolder] to get a stage win. The pressure lasted a long time, too long. But the team were always there for me." Quick Step finally have something to celebrate tonight...
But then so do so many teams, CSC at the forefront. Going back to my Tour de France preview column, we now know that Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne, 9th/+7:12) can complete the entirety of the three-week slog through France, and that he still has a lot of work to do. Euskatel-Euskadi did have a trick up their sleeves, with their rider Samuel Sanchez placing seventh behind the winner, 6:25 back in the general classification. And then there's the winner himself...
Carlos Sastre, as 1997 Tour podium finisher and CSC teammate Bobby Julich (who did not race in this year's Tour de France for CSC) recently wrote in his daily diary on the Tour de France for ESPN, is a low-key rider. He hails in much the same mold as former Spanish Tour great Miguel Indurain in that he is not an overly-aggressive rider. His calculations are methodical. Long denied a place on the podium, whether because of doping or a more assertive leader taking charge of the team's assistance, Sastre now adds another notch in the now-three-year Spanish reign at the Tour de France. What began with Oscar Pereiro (Caisse d'Epargne) taking retroactive victory in the 2006 Tour after Landis tested positive and continued with Alberto Contador (then Discovery Channel, now Astana) taking over the jersey after Michael Rasmussen was pulled from the 2007 Tour by Rabobank with mere days until Paris and a stranglehold on the yellow now goes on in the cleanest Tour in ages. Sadly there were positive results, with three riders getting popped for using a new strain of erythropoietin. But in the end the tests rooted out the pharmaceutically-enhanced and allowed for a real race to emerge.
While Contador did not get to defend his crown, with his new Astana team being barred from Tour competition by ASO before the race, the Spanish streak continued thanks to Sastre. Said the maillot jaune after the final stage, surrounded by wife and children, "I've dreamt of this since I was a child. I'm beyond words -- to be here with my family is really special. It was beautiful to have my children with me on the podium. It’s great to win the Tour de France, but my kids represent the biggest victory in my life. They are so important to me and I want to share that moment with them and have them close to me." Humble and gracious in victory, Sastre finally has the big win that many knew him capable of achieving...
And now so too does his team director, Bjarne Riis. The winner of the 1996 Tour de France who later admitted to accomplishing his victory on EPO, Riis has proven even more skilled in keeping future generations off of the controlled substances and on the podium. Coming close with riders in the past, the yellow jersey has evaded the Danish director until today. To top it off, CSC took the team classification as well as placing Andy Schleck in the best young rider's white jersey. The winners of the ProTour team classification for the entirety of the failed UCI experiment, CSC continues to show its strengths as one of the dominant teams of the peloton.
But the Spanish streak did not end there. Oscar Freire, who has notched many one-day classics in his palmares including three rainbow jerseys as world champion, can finally add a maillot vert to his trophy case as the first Spanish winner of the green jersey points classification. Freire (Rabobank), who has often suffered from various injuries and ailments at this peak time of the season, finally was able to put together good form through July and proved his potential by taking the jersey by fifty points over second-placed Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole). Coupled with taking his fourth Tour stage victory of his career, Freire capped the Spanish assault on its northern neighbor by contributing to the Iberian spoils...
Cadel Evans came oh-so-close yet again, but could not in the end take the crown from Sastre in the final time trial. As the winner said of his nearest competitor, "For him to finish second again in the Tour de France... well, I feel for him. I have finished third and fourth and I know what it is to get close, but I believe he has every right to be happy because he did his best." Evans himself said of his second narrow defeat at the Tour in the past two years, "There were more dramas than I expected or wanted and fighting for every second at the end was exhausting. The crash before the race reached the Pyrenees was very taxing and it cost me a fair bit of strength; I used everything I had in the second week and perhaps that’s the price I paid in the third week. It showed in the final time trial. I rode consistently and reached all the time checks well, but I was just not riding as fast as the other guys. That’s the way it goes." Still, few riders can even say that they have reached the podium of a grand tour once, much less twice. Evans has reason to feel down, but not too much -- after all, Silence-Lotto for years has been a team geared toward getting Robbie McEwen the green jersey, and it has only been in the past few years that the team has started to focus on yellow. Popovych was a good addition but, on his own, could not provide enough assistance to compete against a stronger CSC team. Perhaps next year the Australian will come back with more firepower at his disposal to end the Spanish string of successes...
Bernhard Kohl (Gerolsteiner), meanwhile, found himself in the enviable role of both third-place finisher and the top dog in the mountains. With the mountains competition essentially sealed, the Austrian rider was afforded the opportunity to shoot to maintain a podium position in the penultimate stage. Emerging from the time trial of his life, Kohl managed to maintain his position in the general classification to earn two podium spots today in Paris. "To find myself both on the podium and with the polka-dot jersey is incredible," Kohl said after the race. "When I realized I had a chance of finishing on the Tour podium I gave it everything I could." It goes to show that tenacity CAN lead a rider to new heights...
With the podium presentations complete, the Tour de France closed another chapter. Now the riders' focus turns toward Beijing and the Olympics, the Vuelta a Espana and the world championships in Varese, Italy. The post-Tour criterium season kicks off as well, a lucrative opportunity for cyclists to travel to town races throughout France and Belgium for appearance fees. For the champions, the highs of victory are great... but even for a guy like Wim Vansevenant (Silence-Lotto), who finished 3:55:45 adrift of Sastre as the last-placed (lanterne rouge) rider in the Tour for the third-straight year, the sense of accomplishment upon reaching Paris and finishing another three-week haul through le grande boucle is profound. Here's to the 145 men who made their way over mountains and around France to arrive here today... VIVE LE TOUR!
Results - Stage 21
- Gert Steegmans (BEL) Quick Step -- 3.51.38 (37.04 km/h)
- Gerald Ciolek (GER) Columbia
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole
- Julian Dean (NZL) Garmin-Chipotle
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner
- Robert Forster (GER) Gerolsteiner
- Leonardo Duque (COL) Cofidis
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- all s.t.
- Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC -- 87.52.52
- Cadel Evans (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- +0.58
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- +1.13
- Denis Menchov (RUS) Rabobank -- +2.10
- Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin-Chipotle -- +3.05
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- +4.28
- Samuel Sanchez (ESP) Euskatel-Euskadi -- +6.25
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- +6.55
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +7.12
- Tadej Valjavec (SLO) AG2R La Mondiale -- +9.05
- Oscar Freire (ESP) Rabobank -- 270 pts
- Thor Hushovd (NOR) Credit Agricole -- 220
- Erik Zabel (GER) Milram -- 217
- Leonardo Duque (Col) Cofidis -- 181
- Kim Kirchen (LUX) Columbia -- 155
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 136
- Robert Hunter (RSA) Barloworld -- 131
- Robbie McEwen (AUS) Silence-Lotto -- 129
- Julian Dean (NZL) Garmin-Chipotle -- 119
- Gerald Ciolek (GER) Columbia -- 116
KING OF THE MOUNTAINS
- Bernhard Kohl (AUT) Gerolsteiner -- 128 pts
- Carlos Sastre (ESP) Team CSC -- 80
- Frank Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 80
- Thomas Voeckler (FRA) Bouygues Telecom -- 65
- Sebastian Lang (GER) Gerolsteiner -- 62
- Stefan Schumacher (GER) Gerolsteiner -- 61
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- 61
- Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- 58
- Remy di Gregorio (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- 52
- Egoi Martinez (ESP) Euskatel-Euskadi -- 51
BEST YOUNG RIDER
- Andy Schleck (LUX) Team CSC -- 88.04.24
- Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Liquigas -- +1.27
- Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Liquigas -- +17.01
- Maxime Monfort (BEL) Cofidis -- +24.09
- Eduardo Gonzalo (ESP) Agritubel -- +1.08.34
- Thomas Lovkvist (SWE) Columbia -- +1.13.55
- John-Lee Augustyn (RSA) Barloworld -- +1.24.49
- Peter Velits (SVK) Milram -- +1.38.17
- Remy Di Gregorio (FRA) Francaise des Jeux -- +1.38.22
- Luis Leon Sanchez (ESP) Caisse d'Epargne -- +1.44.07
- Team CSC -- 263.29.57
- AG2R-La Mondiale -- +15.35
- Rabobank -- +1.05.26
- Euskaltel-Euskadi -- +1.16.26
- Silence-Lotto -- +1.17.15
- Caisse d'Epargne -- +1.20.28
- Columbia -- +1.23.00
- Lampre -- +1.26.24
- Gerolsteiner -- +1.27.40
- Credit Agricole -- +1.37.16