Mark Cavendish can do no wrong in the sprints at this year’s Tour. He proves that again and again, and he did it once more in Paris. For the second successive year he was the strongest sprinter in Paris. Alessandro Petacchi followed him to the line in second to become the second Italian to win the green jersey but the race is all about the rider who didn’t win a stage in 2010: Alberto Contador. He is the ninth rider to win the Tour for a third time.
The Progress Report
The 102.5km 20th stage, from Longjomeau to the Champs-Elysées in Paris, began at 2.58pm. There were 170 riders at the start and the weather was overcast with a mild temperature of 22 degrees Celsius. The start was delayed because the RadioShack team wanted to wear black jerseys with “28” on the back, representing the 28 million people around the world living with cancer. The UCI jury insisted that the jerseys be changed to their red ones, in accordance with the race regulations. Not only did the nine riders from the squad that won the team classification have to replace their jerseys, they also had to ensure their race numbers were properly pinned on. This requirement caused a long delay in proceedings on the day that Lance Armstrong says will be his last day of competition.
Racing Starts In Paris
As per usual, the first hours of the final stage were spent with riders coasting along at an idle pace, toasting the events of the past three weeks and posing for photo opportunities. Only 25km were covered in the first hour. Once the peloton arrived on the streets of Paris, the Astana team came to the front for the first crossing of the line that would be used for the finish after eight laps of the circuit on the Champs-Elysees.
The sprinters teams didn’t bother chasing points at the intermediate sprints, instead an escape group formed as it passed the ‘Haut des Champs’ for the first time prime – won by Kuchinski (LIQ) – and then 11 riders broke free of the peloton. In the escape were: Sorensen (SAX), Casar and Roux (FDJ – the latter of whom instigated the move), Riblon (ALM), Martin (THR), Kroon (BMC), Knees (MRM), Pauriol (COF), Perez Lezaun (EUS), Hondo (LAM), and Perez Arrieta (FOT). They worked up a maximum gain of 25”.
Setting Up The Sprint
HCT-Columbia, Sky and Katusha did the most work at the front of the peloton and the escape was caught with 11km to go with Knees, Kroon and Sorensen the last to lament and watch on as the sprinters’ teams plied their trade. Sky had numbers with 1,500m to go – with three in the lead. Then Lampre showed themselves and drove the peloton after the ‘flamme rouge’. Then, on the place de la Concorde Cervelo led to the final straight and Hushovd was in a good position to for the victory but Cavendish started his sprint 200m from the line and everyone else was, again, racing for second.
It is the HTC-Columbia rider’s fifth victory this year and the 15th at the Tour from four starts. With his fifth win he got to within 11 points of the green jersey – the closest he had been throughout the 2010 Tour – but Petacchi’s second place confirmed him as the winner of the points classification. He is the first Italian to win the green jersey since Francesco Bitossi in 1968 and only the second from his country to win the sprinters’ prize at the Tour.
Alberto Contador finished the stage in 81st place but there was no change to the top order of the general classification. He is the ninth rider to win three titles at the Tour. He didn’t win a stage in 2010 but he finished 39” ahead of the best young rider, Andy Schleck.
In 2007, Alberto Contador was the winner of the youth classification and the yellow jersey. The next time he started the Tour he had the seven-time champion, Lance Armstrong as a team-mate but still found the strength to win. He’s no longer young, or haunted by the ambitions of another rider on his squad. Now he’s a three time winner but the Spaniard admits that he’s learning how to manage difficulties.
“It is a Tour in which I had a lot of pressure, especially physically as I was not at my best level. It took a lot of confidence to face difficult situations. For example, everyone said I had already won the Tour after the stage to the Tourmalet. But we saw yesterday, in the race against the clock, that it was not fully played out. Today is therefore a great relief for me, it is a moment that I feel like I’ve been liberated from all the pressure.
“The three wins are all very different. The first, in 2007, had something special, precisely because that was the first. Last year, the context was difficult and this made it difficult. And this year I have had difficult moments, but I could count on a strong team. I realize that each year I gain in experience. I know better manage a team throughout the race.
“Now I am happy to enjoy this victory and I’ll take a good vacation.”
He was second in his second Tour by four minutes and 11 seconds. This time, Andy Schleck is second by just 39 seconds – the fifth smallest margin between winner and runner-up in the history of the race. The Saxo Bank rider now needs to some time to reflect and consider all that he’s done.
“It’s a completely different feeling to when I came second in 2009. I got up there and look at the yellow jersey now and I realize I was so close – but in the end it’s so far away. I almost had it. I wore yellow for six days and I’m more than sure that I want to do better. I have a meeting on the Champs-Elysées next year with the yellow jersey. I’ll be back to win it.
“Right now it’s a bit difficult to understand all that’s happened because I’m in the middle of it all. It’s better to see from the outside. The people I’ve spoken to who have looked on say it’s been a really beautiful Tour and now I really need some time in the next week to sit back and maybe take it all in.
“I’m not going to watch the replays. I don’t want to watch myself on TV – I’m not in love with myself. But I have to enjoy it a little bit.
“I’m not going to brew on the 39 seconds. I’m finished thinking about that. It’s behind me now. It’s pretty funny though because yesterday when I finished the time trial, I said to my room-mate Nicki [Sorensen], ‘If I lose, I hope it’s like 45 or 50 seconds.’ I told him that I hoped it wasn’t going to be 39 seconds. I get to the hotel at the end of the stage and he reminds me that it’s 39 seconds. Ah well, it’s over and it’s lost.
“Right now I don’t know what’s going to change but we’ll all find out soon enough.”
At the end of it all, only 11 points separated Mark Cavendish from the green jersey. His fifth win in the 2010 Tour de France, got the HTC-Columbia rider as close as he was throughout the race to the lead of the points classification but he’s not complaining – not one bit. Five stage wins translates to one emotion: happiness.
“I came around the last corner and I just jumped and started my sprint. It’s different on the Champs-Elysées to every other sprint in the Tour de France where you kind of have save as much energy as possible because every day is so hard. In Paris you’ve got nothing to save your energy for so you just go balls-out to the line and that’s kind of what I did today.
“I’m disappointed this year not to win the green jersey. I set out to do so – it was a target for this year – but I had some bad luck in the first days and was out of the running but the team fought back, did our best and I lost it by 11 points. But we won five stages and we’ve got to be happy with this year’s Tour.
“In the first week there was nothing that could be done about the bad luck but the team rode incredibly strongly throughout the early days and I was the weak link at the end of it. But they never gave up faith and they continued to lead me out and it takes a special group of guys to do that. It’s not just the riders but the soigneurs, the management, the mechanics… everyone in the team. I’m so lucky to part of a group of people who give 100 per cent whatever the outcome. It’s frustrating not to have the best out come when they’ve also done such a good job. It was just a case of trying to make amends. Finally I did and we just got on a roll after that. Obviously if you win, you get confidence. If you get confidence, you win… it rolls like that and it came out to be a pretty successful Tour so I’m pretty happy.”
He made his winner’s speech after the finish of the time trial yesterday and all Alberto Contador really had to do to ensure he was the winner of the 2010 Tour was finish the final stage. He rolled across the line with his arms aloft in 81st place. He is the champion of the Tour de France for the third time!
Four wins in 2008, six in 2009 and five in 2010 - Mark Cavendish is the best sprinter in the Tour. The top 10 in stage 20 is: 1. Mark Cavendish (GBR) THR 2. Alessandro Petacchi (ITA) LAM 3. Julian Dean (NZL) GRM 4. Jurgen Roelandts (BEL) OLO 5. Oscar Freire (ESP) RAB 6. Gerald Ciolek (GER) MRM 7. Thor Hushovd (NOR) CTT 8. Matti Breschel (DEN) SAX 9. Robbie McEwen (AUS) KAT 10. Daniel Oss (ITA) LIQ
Alessandro Petacchi has become only the second Italian rider to win the green jersey at the Tour de France. He was second in the stage and Hushovd was seventh. Cavendish easily won the sprint - again by several bike lengths - but as he reminded us after his victory in stage 18 he "lost the green jersey in stage one".
Cavendish has won the final stage of the Tour for a second successive year. He has beated Petacchi and Dean to claim his fifth stage win this year.
Around the last turn and the sprint is due to begin. Cavendish is poised to strike... but Hushovd is in prime position...