They call the final stage into Paris, and the charge up the Champs-Élysées, the sprinters World Championships, and rightly so. It’s the most spectacular bunch gallop of the lot and the one that every sprinter wants to win…and one of the most satisfying to win at that. Partly because of where it is and partly because of what race it is, but also because you’ve survived 21 stages, several mountain ranges and everything else that comes with a Tour de France to earn the right to partake in it.
It’s why someone like Mario Cippolini, regarded by many as one of the greatest sprinters of all time, never won here. He couldn’t make it through all twenty stages before hand to get the opportunity. Mark Cavendish won four stages this year, but he never made it across the Alps and so he didn’t get the chance either.
Cavendish, of course, has been here before however. He won on this wide cobbled boulevard four straight times between 2009 and 2012 and would surely have been the favourite this time had he made it. Instead it was a fourth straight German win, this time by André Greipel, who won it for the second straight year to go with the two won by Marcel Kittel in 2013 and 2014.
And the winning list here is a roll call of some of the sports greatest sprinters: Freddy Maertens (1981); Jean-Paul van Poppel (1988); Johan Museeuw (1990); Olaf Ludwig (1992); Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, finally in 1993 after his unforgettable crash in the 1991 sprint (and also a winner in 1995); Tom Steels (1998), Robbie Mcewen (1999 and 2002), Tom Boonen (2004), and of course Cavendish and his German pals over the past eight years. Cippolini being one of the few absentees.
There has of course been years in which the sprinters had their party spoiled. It’s almost sacrilege in today’s age to dare to stay away from the annual small group of attackers and hold the sprinters off, but sometimes it does happen, including for three straight years in the late 1970s when Alain Meslet, Gerrie Knetemann and Bernard Hinault all took victories. American Jeff Pierce did it in 1987, Eddy Seigneur in 1994 and Alexander Vinokourov in 2005, and you could say we’re due another, but with the advent of modern sprint trains and tactics and race radios, the likelihood grows smaller each year and it was never likely to happen today either.
The break, which went clear on the early laps of Pairs after the now traditional go-slow procession through the French countryside to the Champs-Élysées, was reeled in with plenty of time for the sprinters to position themselves for the dash out of the Place de la Concorde and up to the line. Alexander Kristoff looked good for a bit, but went too early; Peter Sagan came on strong, but went too late; and it was Greipel who timed it to perfection and kept his streak alive of winning a stage in every Grand Tour he’s taken part in (11 in total; 21 wins) since the 2008 Giro.
Further back, off the rear of the peloton, came Team Sky as a collective. Spread out across the width of the finishing straight, arms around one another, soaking in the moment and the enormity of their achievement, Chris Froome in yellow and the winner of the Tour de France for a third time.
All that was left was the pomp and ceremony: podium presentations for each of the jersey winners, the final podium for the top three in which Chris Froome was joined by Romain Bardet and Nairo Quintana, and then a kind and gracious speech by Froome.
And then it was all over for another year. Hard to believe really. Come and gone, just like that. I’ll let the dust settle and then come back with a review of it all.
Unofficial sprinters World Championships 2016:
1. André Greipel (Lotto Soudal) in 2h43’08”
2. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff)
3. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) all s.t.
Final general classification:
1. Chris Froome (Sky) in 89h04’48”
2. Romain Bardet (AGR2 La Mondiale) @ 4’05”
3. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) @ 4’21”
4. Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExhange) @ 4’42”
5. Richie Porte (BMC) @ 5’17”
6. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) @ 6’16”