Champs-Élysées stage in the Tour de France
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Since 1975, the Tour de France has finished on the Champs-Élysées, an emblematic street of the city of Paris. In the stage, the teams agree on a truce that extends to the last section, where the sprinters break the tranquility by launching at great speed for the last glory of the Tour. Up to the final kilometers, cyclists take the opportunity to have a moment of tranquility, laughing, talking and even celebrating with a glass of champagne.
The course is also used for La Course by Le Tour de France, a women's one-day race held since 2014.
In the first Tour of 1903, the finish was at Ville-d'Avray. From 1904 to 1967 it was at the Parc des Princes track and from 1968 to 1974, during the heyday of Eddy Merckx, at the Vélodrome de Vincennes.
In 1974, Félix Lévitan, co-director of the Tour, and reporter Yves Mourousi suggested a finish on the Champs-Élysées. Mourousi directly contacted French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing to obtain permission. The first stage took place in 1975: this was a Paris-Paris stage of 25 laps (163.5 km). The Belgian Walter Godefroot won the sprint and Bernard Thévenet received the yellow jersey from the hands of Valéry Giscard d'Estaing. In 1977, French Alain Meslet became the first rider to win alone. Since 1978, the Tour launched from outside the city, only the end of the stage follows the route, and the number of laps has varied between six and eight, except for 2003, when the Tour commemorated the centenary of the event; 2013, to celebrate the 100th edition of the race and 2015, to celebrate the 40th finish on the Champs-Élysées, by having riders complete 10 laps of the circuit.
Due to the high profile of the last day as well as its setting, the stage is prestigious. The overall Tour placings are typically settled before the final stage so the racing is often for the glory of finishing the Tour and, at times, to settle the points classification.
Traditionally, the stage starts with champagne served by the race leader's team, on-the-road photo opportunities and joking around. As the riders approach Paris, the racing heats up as the sprinters and their teams begin the real racing of the day. When the riders reach central Paris, they enter the Champs-Élysées riding up the Rue de Rivoli, on to the Place de la Concorde and then swing right on to the Champs-Élysées itself. The riders ride now a total of 8 laps (up towards the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs-Élysées, round les Tuileries and the Louvre and across the Place de la Concorde back to the Champs-Élysées). In past Tours, the riders would complete ten laps before the Tour was over.
When a rider has reached a significant milestone over the course of the concluding Tour, it is customary for the peloton to let him enter the Champs-Elysées section of the stage in first place. Such an honor was bestowed upon American George Hincapie in 2012, in recognition of his final and record setting 17th Tour de France.
While a number of riders will try to pull away from the peloton on the Champs-Elysées, chances of success are slim and these attempts are often seen as one last opportunity for teams to showcase their colors. It is extremely hard for a small group to resist the push of chasing sprinter's teams on the stage's flat circuit, even more so than in a linear race, and the overwhelming majority have ended in a mass sprint.
In early years, breakaway wins did not appear uncommon. A surprising three straight occurred between 1977 and 1979. However, with the advent of modern racing tactics, the feat has become very rare, lending an increasingly valued place in Tour lore to the few who have achieved it. Those are Frenchmen Alain Meslet (1977), Bernard Hinault (1979) and Eddy Seigneur (1994), Dutchman Gerrie Knetemann (1978), American Jeff Pierce (1987), and Kazakhstani Alexander Vinokourov (2005).
There are a few exceptions, in which the last stage saw attacks on the leading position in the general classification.
In 1979, Joop Zoetemelk was 3:07 behind Bernard Hinault before the final stage. Zoetemelk attacked on the last stage, hoping to win enough time to claim the victory. Hinault chased Zoetemelk, and beat him for the stage victory.
In 1989, Greg LeMond beat Laurent Fignon by 58 seconds over a 24 km time trial from Versailles. In doing so, he closed a 50-second gap to win the 1989 Tour de France by eight seconds. It was the first (and only) time trial final stage on the Champs-Élysées. The 1964, 1965 and 1967 Tours finished with time trials to the Parc des Princes, and the 1968 to 1971 stages had time trials to the Vélodrome de Vincennes (Cipale).
In 2005, Lance Armstrong had a comfortable lead in the general classification, but behind him Alexander Vinokourov and Levi Leipheimer were only two seconds apart, on fifth and sixth place. Vinokourov succeeded in a breakaway during the last kilometre and, because of his stage win and bonus seconds, overtook Leipheimer for fifth position overall. As of 2019, this is the last time the stage was not decided in a bunch sprint.
In some years, the points classification was decided on that last stage.
In 1984, Frank Hoste had been leading the points classification for most of the race, but Sean Kelly had taken over the lead on the penultimate stage, with a difference of 4 points. Hoste ended third in the last stage against Kelly fifth, which made Hoste the winner by 4 points.
In the final stages of the 1987 Tour de France, the lead in the points classification switched between Jean-Paul van Poppel and Stephen Roche. Before the final stage, Roche was leading by 17 points, but during the last stage Van Poppel won back 16 points by intermediate sprints. Van Poppel's ninth place in the stage was then enough to win the points classification by 16 points.
In 1991, Djamolidine Abdoujaparov clipped his wheels on barriers. With less than 100m left he tumbled head-over-heels in a spectacular crash. After he regained consciousness, he was helped across the line to clinch the sprinters' competition.
In 2003, the green jersey was settled by a close finish between Baden Cooke and Robbie McEwen finishing 2nd and 3rd respectively, this meant that Baden Cooke finished with 216 points to Robbie McEwen's 214.
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