26/07 - Stage 21 - Sèvres to Paris - 195 km

The route
After three weeks of great racing, this year’s Tour de France now comes to an end. It’s the classic parade stage towards the center of Paris, finishing on the iconic Champs-Élysées.

The day starts in Sèvres, about 10 km southwest of the city center. From here, the peloton rides along for 9.5 km before the official start of the stage is given. Usually, we see numerous attacks as soon as the flag drops. Not today. This is a celebratory stage. There will be no attacking at this point. There is a symbolic category 4 climb, Côte de l’Observatoire, after 10.5 km. The 2.2 km towards the top have an average gradient of 4.1 %. Most likely, we will see a rider from one of the teams who haven’t won anything yet take the points and get a bit of TV-time.

After crossing the Seine and passing by Louvre, the peloton - led by Team Sky - will enter the circuit on Champs-Élysées with 70 km left to go. Here, the riders will take on 10 laps. From this point, the race is on. Anyone who has something left in the legs - and doesn’t have a sprinter to support - will try to attack.

The intermediate sprint comes with 54 km to go after crossing the finishing line for the third time. Earlier in the race, we saw the top sprinters fighting hard for the points. This time, they will be cautious to save as much energy as possible for the final sprint. Furthermore, a breakaway will most likely be up the road at this point.

Unless somebody manages to pull off a stunt as Alexander Vinokourov did in 2005, this will end in a sprint. It’s very important to be well positioned into the last big left-right s-bend with about 500 meters to go. A great leadout can make the difference is this difficult corner. In 2009, Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish set the benchmark with their superb double win. In 2013, Koen de Kort flew through the corners with Marcel Kittel on his wheel. If you’re not amongst the first 5 riders coming out of the last corner, your chances of winning this stage barely exist.

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The favorites
After winning three stages already, Andre Greipel has to be the prime pick today. The big German lost his important leadout rider Greg Henderson early in the race. Still, Greipel has had no problems outsprinting his rivals. If he manages to get out of the last corner in a good position, he will be very difficult to beat. Germany has already had a fantastic Tour de France with five stage wins. Kittel has won in Paris the last two years. Today, Greipel has a unique chance to continue the German tradition and take his first ever stage win on Champs-Élysées.

Another German sprinter who will be eager to win today is John Degenkolb. He has been close on numerous occasions, but Degenkolb has never won a stage in the Tour before. Despite a tough race, he doesn’t seem to have lost any power in the sprints. Actually, he looks stronger compared to when the race started.  The last two years, Degenkolb has been a part of Giant-Alpecin’s winning leadout train for Kittel. This time, it’s his job to finish it off. His final leadout rider Koen de Kort knows exactly how to tackle the last s-bend curve. He has done so brilliantly in the past. If he can do it again today, Degenkolb may finally cross the line first.

Alexander Kristoff came very close to beating Kittel last year. He was in front most of the time but on the final meters, Kittel past him and Kristoff had to settle for second. In this year’s Tour, the Norwegian hasn’t seemed as strong as he did last year when he won two stages. However, Kristoff usually gets better as the race progresses. Compared to Greipel and some of his rivals, Kristoff still has a very strong leadout team at his service. If Marco Haller and Jacopo Guanieri can time their effort perfectly and lead Kristoff out of the last corner, I wouldn’t be surprised if he won the stage. Kristoff is known for his long sprints. It has helped him to many victories in the past. If he has recovered fully from a sore throat, it could very well happen again today.

The outsiders
You can’t talk about Champs-Élysées without mentioning Mark Cavendish. He won here four times in a row from 2009 to 2012 before Kittel stole the show. This year, Cavendish has been struggling a bit in the sprints. He won stage 7 in Fougères but he was nowhere to be found on the last day the sprinters had their say, on stage 15. Cavendish has been suffering a lot in the mountains and even though he managed to survive the Alps, it will be hard for him to take this fifth win here. Not only is he without Mark Renshaw, his leadout train is also missing big engines like Tony Martin and Michal Kwiatkowski. However, it would be foolish to count him out. Few in the peloton know this finish like Cavendish does. If he can get on the right wheel through the last corners, he may be able to pull of another big win in Paris.

Peter Sagan has been outstanding in this year’s Tour de France. Even though the race organizers did everything they could to make it as hard as possible for him to win the green jersey, Sagan still destroyed his competition. However, for the second year in a row, the Slovakian champion hasn’t won a single stage. Since he won his last Tour stage in 2013, Sagan has been second no less than 10 times. He’s not a real power sprinter like Greipel or Kristoff and he can’t match Cavendish’ exceptional kick. Therefore, it’s very hard for Sagan to win a typical bunch sprint like this. It doesn’t mean he won’t win today, though. The weather forecast predicts it may rain. If so, the last s-bend will be very dangerous. Sagan’s bike-handling skills are second to none. While many may be cautious on wet roads in the difficult corners, Sagan will have no problems positioning himself well. This may help him finally win a stage in the Tour again.

For other fast outsiders with a chance today, look to Arnaud Démare, Edvald Boasson Hagen, Ramunas Navardauskas, Davide Cimolai, Bryan Coquard and Michael Matthews. After his crash on stage 3, the Australian has fought hard just to stay in race. His injuries have kept him from performing as well as he had hoped for. Now however, Matthews is starting to feel good again. Not having participated much in the sprints so far, Matthews may be one of the freshest riders in the peloton. It won’t be a surprise if he ends up giving the top favorites a real run for the money today.

Today is also the day the women’s La Course takes place on Champs-Élysées. You can read much more about the big race over at Ella by clicking here.

For live coverage of the stage, go to steephill.tv.

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