Today the Tour de France 2015 comes to its final stage. For the majority of the peleton today is largely a ceremonial stage, cruising the 109km into Paris for the final celebrations.
There is a gentleman’s understanding that the rider in the yellow jersey after yesterday’s stage is the winner, and no-one will challenge this. But for the sprinters in the teams, winning on this final stage on the Champs-Élysées is the highlight of their tour.
Since 1975 the race has finished on the Champs-Elysées, before that it spent seven years at the ‘Cipale’ velodrome in the South East of Paris. Prior to that from 1903 until 1967, it finished at the Parc des Princes velodrome, home now to Paris Saint-Germain football club. The Champs-Elysees Avenue is the main road through the very centre of Paris, compared to London it would be like finishing a race outside Buckingham Palace.
Once the riders enter Paris they have to complete 10 laps of the Champs-Elysées circuit, around the Jardin des Tuileries, across the Place de la Concorde and up the cobbles of the famous avenue to the Arc de Triomphe. Each lap takes about 10 minutes to complete.
The 100th edition of the race in 2013 was the first to introduce the Arc de Triomphe into each lap, replacing what had been an almost dead-stop turnaround on the Champs-Elysées. Since then, the Arc de Triomphe has been a fine feature in this final stage, making a stunning backdrop to the final moments of this magical race.
Today's stage will be contested by the sprinters still left in the race. Things will start to heat up once the the race hits the cobbles of the Place de la Concorde, which signals the start of the final 10 laps. Then it’s a cat and mouse game per lap to jostle positions and show off top speeds and finally get in place for the final sprint.
A lot of eyes will be on Mark Cavendish this afternoon to see whether he can win his 27th Tour stage. He will be riding without his usual lead out rider, Mark Renshaw, as he had to pull out due to illness. But everyone else seems to be in a similar situation, with many teams depleted and missing their key members. Cavendish won this stage a record 4 years in a row from 2009 to 2012. Today it looks like it will be a battle between Cavendish and Andre Griepel for the final line, although one thing we have learnt over the last 3 weeks is that nothing can be predicted in this tour.