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92nd Tour de France - GT

France, July 2-24, 2005

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Stage 21 - Sunday, July 24: Corbeil-Essonnes - Paris Champs-Élysées, 144 km

Commentary by Roger Hughes, with additional reporting from Tim Maloney, Anthony Tan and Hedwig Kröner

Live report

Live coverage starts: 13:30 CEST
Estimated finish: 17:15 CEST

Stage 21 profile
Click for stage map

14:03 CEST   
Good afternoon and welcome to the last stage of the Tour, the traditional procession into Paris followed by a crit up and down the Champs Elysées and round the Tuileries gardens. And the last day of Lance Armstrong's racing career, of course.

As usual, there is little to be decided on this final day - the yellow jersey is as solidly attached to Armstrong's shoulders as most of us assumed it would be since he caught Ullrich in the opening time trial, the podium places are settled, as the spotty climber's jersey competition has been for several days now. The likelihood of Kashechkin making up the best part of ten minutes to take away the white jersey for best young rider from Igor Popovych, or of Discovery ganging up to make up a 15 minute deficit from T-Mobile in the team classification, is also somewhat remote. But the green jersey competition is still open, with Thor Hushovd leading by 15 points from Stuart O'Grady and 21 from Robbie McEwen; today there are two bonus sprints (one outside the Tour's dope testing laboratory at Chatenay-Malabry at km 75 and one on the third lap of the Champs Elysées circuit) offering 6/4/2 points each, plus a possible 35 points for the stage winner, so they are in with a chance although Hushovd remains a strong favourite. Those bonus sprints also offer time bonuses, which could enable some changes in the minor GC placings, notably the two seconds by which Alexandr Vinokourov trails Levi Leipheimer, with the bruised and battered Michael Rasmussen six seconds further back.

14:09 CEST    12km/132km to go
The race has covered 12 km at a modest processional pace; there will be no real racing for the first couple of hours, leaving commentators time to ponder on the future of cycling post-Lance, and the future of Lance post-cycling.

Chris Brewer has sent his final daily report in from behind the scenes at Discovery: "Obviously a very upbeat time behind the barricades at the Discovery Channel bus. Nike came and delivered their special team kits for the day, similar to their usual kit but trimmed in yellow with 7 stars. Giro also hand delivered Lance's yellow and black Lone Star helmet, and Lance's all black Trek "7 Bike" was also unveiled. Plenty of sponsor VIPs were on-hand but the scene was not as chaotic as the TT yesterday, and lots of fans got the Maillot Jaune's autograph."

14:33 CEST    22km/122km to go
A bunch of blokes are pootling along cheerfully through the Parisian suburbs. We've had ceremonial appearances at the front of the parade from the top three, the jersey-holders, and now the whole Discovery team are passing the champers around to toast Armstrong's record seventh victory, a record that will is guaranteed to last until at least 2013 (unless he changes his mind and makes a comeback, I guess).

Sadly, the weather gods have not decided to help the celebrations and there is some light rain falling; it's not by any means cold, however.

14:47 CEST    32km/112km to go
The end of term feeling extends also to website blokes who no longer seem to know what day it is (The Big Sleep). Armstrong is now spending a while riding back through the race convoy paying his respects to the other riders in the peloton, team managers and crews in the cars behind, etc. (The Long Goodbye/Farewell My Lovely). Rumour has it that Barbara Bush (The Little Sister) is out to witness today's events. I'm probably not going to be able to get The Lady In The Lake in here, am I?

A minor tangle brings down Iban Mayo, Alexander Moos and Jose Enrique Gutierrez; Moos gets a bike change, but nothing serious.

15:17 CEST    42km/102km to go
Still not a lot happening in strictly racing terms, of course; there is the traditional 4th-cat climb in or rather out of the Chevreuse valley coming in a few kilometres, which should liven things up for a minute or two; my money for it is on prime-hungry Carlos Da Cruz, who (jointly with Walter Bénéteau) was also voted one of the two riders easiest to work with by the race's photographers this year. He has certainly got his name mentioned a few times on here, anyway.

So, what is coming up next for Mr Armstrong? He's off to the south of France for a week for new-found freedom in eating and drinking, as well as going to the beach with his kids. He said in his post-stage press conference (see report), "This job is stressful, and this race is stressful, so hopefully the next week will be a preview of what my life will be like for the next 50 years, although I can't promise I won't show up at a few cyclo-cross events or mountain bike or triathlon races. I'm an athlete. I've been competing in swimming and running events since I was 12 years old."

Somehow the image of Lance the slacker doesn't quite compute, though. I reckon it's politics next; remember that you heard it here first.

15:35 CEST    54km/90km to go
In our stage report from yesterday, Anthony Tan wrote, "The battle for the maillot vert appears pretty much decided in favour of Norwegian Thor Hushovd (Credit Agricole), who holds a 15-point buffer over Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis) and a margin of 19 on Robbie McEwen (Davitamon), clearly the best sprinter of the 2005 Tour de France*. However, with no sprint in sight till 15:30, when the riders are expected to hit Chatenay-Malabry at km 75, before the final hoo-hah on the Champs-Elysées, the final verdict won't be known till much later tomorrow afternoon.

All things being equal, if O'Grady won the stage, Hushovd would need to finish seventh or worse for Stuey to win overall; and if Rockin' Robbie were to take his third win on the Champs and his third green tunic, Mighty Thor would need to be not so mighty at all, finishing outside the top 10. Both appear unlikely scenarios, but 27 year-old Hushovd's keeping his wits about him: "Like Baden Cooke told me the other day, you have to be concentrated every day and not lose the focus, otherwise something can happen like what happened to Rasmussen today" he said.

It also depends what happens in the two bonus sprints beforehand, of course.

Robbie McEwen reckons that he lost the green jersey because of his disputable relegation from second place in the sprint at Tours and the big final corner stack-up in Nancy, and that his main aim for today would be to try for a fourth stage win, rather than minimaxing the points. "Dan ben ik alsnog tevreden, zeker omdat die extra glans krijgt op de Champs Elysées". You may not have realised how well he speaks Dutch these days, but trust us, he does. OK, "That would make me just as happy, especially because a win on the Champs has a bit of extra gloss on it."

*Anthony said that, not me, before the Tom Boonen fan club start bombarding me with mail.

15:45 CEST    62km/82km to go
And much to my surprise, I freely admit, it is the man in yellow himself who comes from where he had been hiding in the middle of the bunch to show off to the crowds gathered up the climb at Gif-sur-Yvette, consolidating his third place in the climber's competition, although it was mathematically safe anyway.

The pace has picked up a bit now, mainly because it's downhill, and we're getting closer to the bonus sprint at Chatenay-Malabry. Did I already say that this is where the Tour's dope testing is done? Ah, yes, I did.

15:56 CEST   

16:03 CEST    75km/69km to go
On the run-in to the sprint, as predicted Alexander Vinokourov takes off to try and pick up the bonus seconds that will push him up past Levi Leipheimer into fifth place on GC. Predictable enough that Gerolsteiner promptly send four men off in pursuit. Leipheimer in person gets across to the Kazakh...

16:06 CEST    77km/67km to go
Vino winds up a big gear to take the sprint from Leipheimer, gaining 6 and 4 seconds bonus respectively, putting them equal on GC (subject to counting back fractions of seconds in TTs, which I shall do in a moment) and Fabian Wegmann mops up the remaining place. All good for Thor Hushovd - if a break goes clear on the Champs as well, it will all be down to the final sprint, where he only needs seventh to keep the jersey.

16:12 CEST    83km/61km to go
From here on it is all built up through the Parisian conurbation, although Paris proper doesn't stop

Philippe Gilbert attacks, and DIscovery chase him down, but as they come back to him on the damp roads George Hincapie comes down on a slick curve, POpovych goes up onto the pavement/sidewalk, and Armstrong himself only just misses the heap and ends up with a foot on the ground. No serious damage, but Lombardi nips up the road to tell the leaders to slow up and they are back in a procession now.

16:16 CEST    86km/58km to go
The race organisers have a get-out clause that allows them to take the time for the general classification on the first passage across the finish line, as the cobbles on the Champs are a bit tricky in the wet, and it looks as though it may be invoked. We're on the quais alongside the Seine at the moment, with the Eiffel tower looming through the murk ahead of the riders across the river. It's still a procession.

16:23 CEST    53km/91km to go
The race management have indeed announced that the GC time gaps will be taken on the first crossing of the finish line, which is going to be any moment; as we drop into the tunnel under the place in front of the Louvre the Discovery team are moving up to the front to take the line together en masse...

16:26 CEST    92km/52km to go
The rain is actually starting to fall harder now, and this is going to be tricky racing, even if gaps that open up now do not count for GC.

And they are home, and Armstrong has won the Tour, as long as he doesn't actually break more than one leg or so in the next hour's racing.

16:29 CEST    95km/49km to go
Like most city centre streets, the Champs is greasy with rubber and oil when wet, and worse still where it is cobbled. The whole field are taking the corners very gently indeed. All together still.

16:36 CEST    99km/45km to go
Today the city of lights is definitely Paris tous gris, as the song says, but that hasn't stopped the crowds from coming out, eight or ten deep all round the finishing circuit.

The time bonuses (but not the points) for the second intermediate sprint have also been cancelled, so the Leipheimer/Vinokourov battle is settled in favour of the American, who is ahead on the fractions of seconds from the two time trials. The race is still a procession - the bunch 15 abreast across the road with 5 laps to go - but a 43 kph procession nonetheless.

But it finally breaks up, as Carlos Da Cruz, who else, tries to jump clear.

16:38 CEST    101km/43km to go
Da Cruz leads them through the 180 degree corner at the top of the Champs, with riders lined out behind him. And on the descent, such as it is, he and Nicolas Jalabert have taken nine riders clear; the bunch is now lined out behind them.

16:40 CEST    103km/41km to go
Da Cruz has a mechanical in the Place de la Concorde and all but four of the break have crashed. Fabian Wegmann is down as is Christophe Brandt.

16:44 CEST   
MIchele Albasini and Andriy Grivko go clear from the break and the remainder of the attackers are back in the bunch; there is a straggle of dropped riders from the various crashes but nothing serious.

Grivko is dropped, Albasini alone ahead.

16:47 CEST    108km/36km to go
Albasini took the points for the second bonus sprint, ahead of Nicolas Jalabert and Laurent Brochard, so the green jersey classification will come down to the final sprint with the points unchanged from the overnight situation.

Albasini is caught, and the next attacker is someone who knows better than most how to deal with wet cobbles, Servais Knaven, Paris-Roubaix winner.

16:53 CEST    114km/30km to go
Knaven has been joined by Rubens Bertogliati and Kjell Carlström, and another group of chasers is closing on them. The bunch is 25 seconds behind.

16:57 CEST    118km/26km to go
The leaders have cone together to form a group of ten now; not Bertogliati but his teammate Quinziato, Brandt, Bernucci, Carlstrom, Knaven, Pineau, Portal, Righi, Wrolich and Cortinovis. However, the chase has now been taken up by Lotto-Davitamon on behalf of Robbie McEwen...

Portal punctures from the leaders, so then there were nine. Four laps to go of this 6.5 km circuit.

16:59 CEST    120km/24km to go
The roads are drying out again, the pace has lifted and the whole field are lined out trying to stay with the chase; FdJ are also chasing - it looks like Brad McGee on the front.

17:00 CEST    120km/24km to go
The break sit up but Knaven jumps again as the race comes back together.

17:04 CEST    123km/21km to go
Armstrong is riding comfortably in the middle of the field, surrounded by the whole Discovery team. Knaven's move is in vain and we're all back together again.

Another attack goes; it's Chris Horner and Bram Tankink this time...

17:07 CEST    125km/19km to go
This one's looking good, as the due have nearly 20 seconds coming up to the top turn up just short of the Arc de Triomphe.

Lotto aren't chasing so hard now, and McEwen is sitting some way back; Hushovd is closer to the front.

17:11 CEST    15km/129km to go
Lotto, Cofidis and FdJ are taking up the chase now, with the lead steady at 15 seconds. Looks like they are letting them hang out there to prevent any other attacks going.

17:14 CEST    131km/13km to go
Tankink and Horner cross the line with two laps to go, with Johan Van Summeren and Wim Vansevenant leading the bunch through.

17:20 CEST    138km/6km to go
All back together now as Horner and Tankink sit up. All the sprinters' teams are now up towards the head of the race with the bunch almost lined out, although Armstrong is still able to have a quick word with his team-mates - he looks happier now than he did after Hincapie's crash a few kilometres back.

1 lap to go.

17:22 CEST   
Cedric Vasseur jumps clear for Cofidis to take the attention off O'Grady on the run up to the top turn, then Rubens Bertogliati has a go. Jaksche is with him.

17:23 CEST   
Chris Brewer reports that sources very close to the Discovery Channel team saw a 54 tooth chainring being installed on Lance's bike just before the start today. If things are close at the end the finish could be very interesting indeed as Armstrong races his final event.

17:24 CEST    141km/3km to go
Brochard and Vinokourov are having a go with 3 km to go, last time through the Place de la COncorde. VIno could still move up a place with the bonus seconds at the finish, which still apply as far as we know.

17:26 CEST   
Vino, McGee and An AG2R come out of the tunnel with a few yards free, and McGee jumps under the kilometre banner...

17:27 CEST   
Vino comes up McGee on the last corner, and Cancellara tries to get across, but it's too far, and Vino comes off McGee's wheel to take it!

McGee takes second place ahead of a fast finishing Fabian Cancellara. The green jersey battle was swamped, but it looks like Hushovd did enough. Indeed, he was seventh, which would have won the jersey in any case; like Erik Zabel a couple of years back, he has taken the maillot vert without winning a stage.

Armstrong rolls in, for his last metres of his racing career (or his serious racing career anyway). Seven in a row. All over. Except for a quick trip into the doping control caravan...

Vino is overjoyed and receiving hugs from his team-mates, despite a certain amount of bad feeling that has been in the air recently there or thereabouts. That's never the easiest of places to put in a finisseur attack against all the sprinters' teams, even if he did get a bit of a helping hand from McGee who might have expected to be able to outsprint him as a rule. There is still some confusion as to whether the time bonuses for the finish were cancelled, but as far as we have been informed they do still apply; it was just the time bonuses for the second sprint that were cancelled.

So as the podium ceremonies start, where do we go from here? Well, apart from the showers, a few days without any bike racing and back for the HEW-Cyclassics Cup ProTour race next weekend, and on with the Armstrong-free racing that we deal with for most of the year anyway. But next year's tour will be a little odd, used as we have become to pretty much knowing who's going to win from somewhere in the first week. And somehow I can't imagine that the man who is rightfully the centre of attention today is going to vanish into complete obscurity from here.

Lance Armstrong, accompanied by his three children, Luke, Grace and Isabelle, stands on the special final podium, aligned with the Arc de Triomphe and the Arc de La Défence in the distance receives his final yellow jersey, his final Crédit Lyonnais stuffed lion, his last yellow bouquet. A fortunate man to be able to give himself the absolute luxury of retiring at the top of his career, unlike most of the great Tour winners before him.

An unprecedented move in finish line protocol as Lance gets the microphone to offer a brief farewell speech, commending Ullrich and Basso on the steps beside him and looking to the future of the race. Vive Le Tour.


1 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team                           3.40.57
2 Bradley McGee (Aus) Française Des Jeux                     
3 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Fassa Bortolo                      
4 Robbie McEwen (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                           
5 Stuart O'Grady (Aus) Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone            
6 Allan Davis (Aus) Liberty Seguros-Würth                         
7 Thor Hushovd (Nor) Credit Agricole                              
8 Baden Cooke (Aus) Française Des Jeux                            
9 Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Française Des Jeux                         
10 Robert Förster (Ger) Gerolsteiner                              

Final general classification

1 Lance Armstrong (USA) Discovery Channel                             86.15.02
2 Ivan Basso (Ita) Team CSC                                               4.40
3 Jan Ullrich (Ger) T-Mobile Team                                         6.21
4 Francisco Mancebo (Spa) Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne                  9.59
5 Alexandre Vinokourov (Kaz) T-Mobile Team                               11.01
6 Levi Leipheimer (USA) Gerolsteiner                                     11.21
7 Michael Rasmussen (Den) Rabobank                                       11.33
8 Cadel Evans (Aus) Davitamon-Lotto                                      11.55
9 Floyd Landis (USA) Phonak Hearing Systems                              12.44
10 Oscar Pereiro Sio (Spa) Phonak Hearing Systems                        16.04

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