Tour de France, Grand Tour
France, July 3-25, 1999
Stage 20, Arpajon - Paris Champs-Elysées, 160 kms:The last stage in the Tour de France (except when they tried to finish the race with a decisive ITT - as in 1989 when Greg LeMond came from behind to beat local hero Laurent Fignon) is really a showcase. The action gets hot in the last hour on the Champs-Elysées when the sprinters are desperate to win that last stage and others try to get their jersey's out front for the "inevitable attack". All the yellow jersey has to do it cruise, make sure his team is monitoring what is happening on the front, and stay out of trouble in the final sprint. Nothing much happens other than that.
For this Tour the situation was even more definite. Lance Armstrong was over 7 minutes in front of closest rival Alex Zülle and ten minutes in front of Fernando Escartin in third place. So enjoy the sun and watch the wheels. 141 riders started the last stage. The weather was warm and the atmosphere was like a carnival.
The stage contained two Cat 4 climbs early on - the Côte de Saint-Rémy (km 36.5) and the Côte de Chateaufort (km 40). The peloton was complete over both and the first mountain premie was won by Belgian Kurt van de Wouwer (Lotto) from Italian Marco Pinotti (Lampre) then Richard Vireqnue (Polti). The Frenchman Virenque, who also won the overall mountain's gc, won the second premie with Pinotti in second and Italian Mariano Piccoli (Lampre) third.
There was some feigned excitement by commentators when Lance Armstrong punctured at km 55. He was delayed for a short time but was never challenged and regained contact with the complete peloton quickly.
At km 59.5 came the first intermediate sprint at Chatenay-Malabry and Christophe Capelle (Big Mat-Auber 93) won from Lars Michaelsen (La Française des Jeux) and Carlos Da Cruz (Big Mat-Auber 93).
Following tradition, the peloton was led into Paris by the US Postal team and no riders attempted to attack prior to this and alter the tradition. The next intermediate sprint came on the Champs-Elysées with George Hincapie winning from Frankie Andreu and Pascal Derame (all US Postal). Once the formalities were over, the criterium began and the breaks started. The first to try their hands were Marco Serpellini (Lampre-Daikin) and Elio Aggiano (Vitalicio Seguros). But that was short-lived. The first real threatening break came from 9 riders at the end of the third lap. The 9 were Alexei Sivakov (Big Mat-Auber 93), Anthony Morin (La Française des Jeux), Laurent Desbiens (Cofidis), Armin Meier (Saeco-Cannondale), Rossano Brasi (Polti), Paolo Lanfranchi (Mapei-Quick Step), Fabia De Waele (Lotto-Mobistar), Sébastien Hinault (Crédit Agricole) and Jan Schaffrath (Telekom). The 9 built a lead of 1.00 before Morin attacked alone and was quickly marked by Desbiens. Hinault was lost after he punctured. 2 laps later going into lap 6 (of 10) the two had a lead of 32 seconds on the break and 45 seconds on the main peloton. Not a serious lead but tantalising. The two were hauled back in on lap 6 (now there were 8 in front) and as they went into lap 7 the lead was down to 30 seconds. The adventure ended with 15 kms left to ride with the Rabobank, Telekom and Mapei-Quick Step teams doing most of the work on the front of the chase.
In the final sprint, it was Australian Robbie McEwen, who has been totally outclassed in the sprints so far this Tour, who came through to beat Erik Zabel. Zabel took the green, Virenque the polka dot, Armstrong the yellow and Banesto were the best team. No French rider won a stage (first time since 1926).
What they said:
Robbie McEwen (Australia, winner of last stage): "This is my Tour third and my first stage win. The first Tour was really to get experience. Last year I rode for stage wins and placing. This year I was highly motivated to win a stage. I was second in Bordeaux. After that stage there was a misunderstanding. In the Dutch newspapers, they claimed I had criticised the tactics of the team. That the team had not supported me at the end. I had really only stressed the point that the riders in the team were a little demoralized by the lack of success so far. If the team manager believes the press over me then there is trouble. Next year I will ride for another team. In June I was not riding well. As the Tour progressed I felt my form improving - gradually and I thought of winning this sprint on the most beautiful avenue in the world."
Erik Zabel (Germany, second in sprint and Green Jersey winner): "I tried to win the final sprint but couldn't quite manage to win on the Champs-Elysées. Today, my team worked very hard as they have since the first stage. But Robbie was stronger and fresher. Nevertheless I have the satisfaction of winning the green jersey for the fourth time and my son was here to witness that."
Silvio Martinello (Italy, third in final stage): "It was a chance lost as far as I am concerned. Only Mirko Crepaldi could help me in the last kilometers. I was too far back when the sprint was launched and I was obstructed by Steels. It is a pity because I was very fast at the end."
27-year old Robbie McEwen is an "individualist" in the Rabobank team. He has ridden for the team for four years. But he is now out-of-sorts with the team after comments attributed to him, which he denies, hit the Dutch press a few days ago. He is alleged to have said that the team does not help him and his lack of success in the Tour to date had been a consequence of that.
McEwen began on two wheels with BMX racing around Brisbane where he grew up. He is 1.71 metres tall but a very quick sprinter.
He lives in Belgian during the racing season - in Geraardsbergen near to the Muur. He was attracted to this location by his girlfriend Angelique who is Belgian. They plan to marry in the coming year. He also does not mix much with the other Australian riders in the peloton who mostly live in a close-knit group in the south of France. His big aim in the next 12 months is the Olympic Games in Sydney.