Putting a positive spin on a frustrating Tour de France that had delivered one close call but no sprint victories, Andre Greipel’s long journey through the Pyrenees and the Alps paid off on the Champs-Élysées in Paris with a stage victory in his German national champion’s jersey.
Greipel, who had taken at least one stage win in every Grand Tour he’d started since the 2008 Giro d’Italia, had been beaten to the line at this Tour by Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Peter Sagan, Alexander Kristoff, and others, but he redeemed his race with a final-stage salvo in Paris.
After finishing a disappointing sixth on Stage 14, the last field sprint, Greipel muscled his away across the Alps to make it to Paris and battle for the most prestigious field sprint in pro cycling. It was Greipel’s second win on the Champs-Élysées, following his win there one year ago.
Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) rounded the final corner in second position, followed by Greipel and Peter Sagan (Tinkoff). The Norwegian was the first to launch the sprint, but hewas soon passed by the German national road champion. Sagan, the green jersey winner and a stage winner three times at this Tour, came on strong in the final 50 metres, but simply ran out of road and couldn’t get by, settling for second on the day. Kristoff finished third.
“I can’t describe it,” Grepiel said. “I’m just super proud of what we’ve achieved today. I’ve raced for three weeks for that. The team kept believing in me. We’ve tried many times and we walk away from the Tour with two stage wins, with Thomas De Gendt and myself. This morning, we had a good plan. There was a head wind at the end. I just tried to stay calm. Once we hit the finale, we were one guy too short so I chose to follow Alexander Kristoff who was the strongest. But this is another stage win at the Tour de France. It’s wonderful.”
As expected after Saturday’s final mountain stage in the Alps, Chris Froome (Team Sky) won the 2016 Tour de France, his third overall victory in four years. The Briton crossed the finish line arm-in-arm with the eight teammates who helped guide him to victory.
“It’s amazing,” Froome said. ‘Amazing. It doesn’t wear off after two times. Rolling on the Champs-Elysées is the same, it’s an amazing feeling. My teammates have emptied themselves every day, so it was important to show on the finishing line this is a team sport, this is what it’s all about, what we’ve worked for.”
Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) finished second at 4:05 and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished third overall, 4:21 behind. The Colombian has ridden the Tour three times and has finished on the podium every time. He was second overall in 2013 and 2015.
Froome joined an illustrious club of riders who have won the Grande Boucle three or more times. The seven other riders to do so include five-time champions Jacques Anquetil (France), Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Bernard Hinault (France), and Miguel Indurain (Spain) and three-time winners Philippe Thys (Belgium), Louison Bobet (France) and Greg LeMond (USA).
Sagan has ridden the Tour de France five times since 2012 and has taken home the green jersey of the winner of the points classification five consecutive times. The world champion also took home the Super Combative prize as the most aggressive rider of the 2016 Tour. Sagan has won the second most green jerseys all-time, with Erik Zabel holding the record with six. The German also won his green jerseys consecutively, from 1996-2001.
British rider Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) stepped onto the podium in Paris wearing the white jersey as winner of the Best Young Rider classification, eligible to riders under the age of 26. The classification was introduced in 1975 and Yates is the first Briton to take home the award; Yates finished the Tour fourth overall, just 22 seconds off the podium.
Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) wore polka-dots for the second time on the Champs-Élysées as winner of the King of the Mountains classification. His first win came in 2014, a year that his team leader Alberto Contador also crashed out of the Tour.
The Spanish-based team, Movistar, took home the Team Classification for the fourth time. The long-running Spanish squad won the classification last year and as Banesto in 1991 and 1999.
HOW IT HAPPENED
On Sunday the 2016 Tour de France concluded after over three weeks of traveling around France and visiting Spain, Andorra, and Switzerland as well. The 21st and final stage traveled from Chantilly to the “City of Lights,” finishing on the famed Champs-Élysées. The 113km (70.2mi) route included eight laps around the famous boulevard.
The riders rolled out of Chantilly relaxed and chatting amongst one another. Many had GoPros mounted to their bikes, to document the moment. Ángel Vicioso (Katusha) made sure to capture a moment with Sagan, as Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal) was enlisted to take the the picture.
Froome moved ahead of the peloton and shook hands with Bernard Hinault, who was riding in the commissaire car in front of the peloton. The French legend retired on Sunday from his long-running position with race organizers ASO at the Tour. The Frenchman has said he will return to the Tour in the years to come, but will stand on the side of the the road, watching the race with his grandson.
Team Sky replaced the blue stripes in their jerseys with yellow to commemorate Froome’s victory. Furthermore, instead of having a celebratory sip of champagne before the racing truly started, the team chose beers. Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard didn’t drink much of theirs as they instead sprayed the beer on each other.
After having a beer with his teammates, Froome did have a cup of celebratory champagne.
Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), who is retiring at the end of the year, was given the honour of leading the peloton onto the Champs-Élysées, as France’s national Air Force flew the colours of the French flag overhead.
The French national road champion, Arthur Vichot (FDJ) was the first rider to attack on the uphill drag to the Arc du Triomphe before the peloton looped around the famous monument and flew down the famous boulevard. Ian Stannard and Team Sky were lined up at the front of the peloton with the maillot jaune of Froome the last of the Sky riders.
At the end of the first of eight 7km laps of the Champs-Élysées, an eight-rider breakaway formed including Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Lawson Craddock (Cannondale-Drapac), Markus Burghardt (BMC Racing), Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), Jérémy Roy (FDJ), Jan Barta (Bora), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Vital Concept)
On a day of celebration at the Tour, there was one dark spot as Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) was forced to abandon on the opening finishing circuit with knee pain.
Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) suffered a mechanical on the third lap and stopped to get his spare bike from his team car. Disaster struck the German sprinter, as his spare bike also had a flat rear tire. Kittel threw down the wheel down in anger as the team mechanic grabbed a spare. He would rejoin the peloton after a furious lone chase, but would not end up contesting the final sprint for the stage win — a stage he won in 2013.
Burghardt was dropped from the lead group at the beginning of the fourth lap with a mechanical. Behind, Direct Energie did the bulk of the chasing on the front of the peloton, hoping to set-up France’s Bryan Coquard for victory.
As the riders approached three laps to go, Dan Martin (Etixx-Quick), who started the day sitting ninth overall, suffered a read puncture. The Irishman would safely rejoin the peloton, but the day had turned into a nightmare for Etixx-QuickStep, with team owner Patrick Lefevere voicing his displeasure on Twitter over the team’s terrible luck. Patrick Lefevere: This is really a shit day for our team #TDF2016 @Etixx_QuickStep I hate it
Craddock was dropped from the breakaway just across the finish line with about 20km to go, as Sky’s Luke Rowe and Wout Poels went on the attack and joined the leaders quickly.
Once the Sky riders joined the breakaway, cooperation among the leaders seemed to disappear and Teklehaimanot set off alone. The bunch was all back together, as it approached two laps to go, but Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) tried his hand with an attack and was soon joined by former maillot jaune Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing)
The cheers from the crowd were deafening as the bell echoed up and down one of the most famous boulevards in the world to signify the final lap. Van Avermaet, who had distanced Lutsenko, was brought back into the fold by IAM Cycling and many sprint trains fought for control at the front of the peloton.
A few riders crashed in the final kilometres, but that did little to disrupt the speed at the front of the race. Coquard, who finished second to Kittel in a photo finish on Stage 4, suffered a puncture with 2.5km to go, putting him out of the running to contest for the stage win. Under 2km to go, Lotto-Soudal came to the front of the peloton with four riders in front of Greipel, but they didn’t have the firepower to lead all the way to the line.
Team Katusha brought Kristoff to the front with less than 500 metres to go and the Norwegian rounded the final corner in perfect postion. However Greipel proved to be the fastest sprinter on the day and captured his 13 career stage win.
Froome safely crossed the finish line as champion of the 2016 Tour. He rode the final kilometres slowly with his teammates, soaking in the moment.
Bardet took pride in his best-ever Tour finish. “It’s a big moment,” he said. “My joy is enormous, for me and for the team but I’m yet to realize what happened. I had mixed feelings after the Dauphiné and everything went well here. I’ve changed a few things. In previous years, I left the Tour with some frustrations but there’s nothing like that today. I only have to enjoy the moment. I found the podium ceremony very impressive in 2014 for the teams’ classification and also for the Super Combative prize last year. This result is above the others. I take it as an encouragement.”
The final podium presentation of the 2016 Tour de France, from left: Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Chris Froome (Team Sky), and Nairo Quintana (Movistar). Photo: Cor Vos.
Quintana finished third for the first time in his career, after two second-place finishes, and said he would bypass the Rio Olympics in order to focus on winning the Vuelta a España.
“I’ve done the Tour three times and the podium three times,” Quintana said. “I can only be happy. After so many kilometers, so much work, to be on the podium is gratifying and always a success. Froome was untouchable and much superior on this Tour. Team Sky has always raced at a high level. They have riders of a big potential and they know how to race as a team. I’m disappointed to not have been able to create more of spectacle. Some of my physique has gone missing. I’ve suffered from allergies. It takes many years to reach the pinnacle but if I keep trying and working, I’ll make it. I’ll keep chasing my yellow dream. My family is my support. They make me stronger. Without them, I wouldn’t do a thing. I won’t take part in the Olympic Games. I want to recover and be ready for the Vuelta a España to give emotions and animate the race.”
Froome’s former teammate and close friend, Richie Porte (BMC Racing), finished in fifth position, 5:17 back. Porte helped guide Froome to his previous two overall victories.
While the 2016 Tour de France is over, many of the top riders will be back in action on Monday and the following days, as they hit the post-Tour criterium circuit throughout several European countries. The nightly criteriums are mostly celebratory affairs with the top riders and jersey winners from the Tour earning hefty paychecks to participate, the results rigged to ensure a world-class podium.
In just his second appearance at the Tour de France, 23-year old Adam Yates became the first British rider to win the best young rider award. As well as winning the white jersey, Yates also finished fourth place overall, well above expectation giving ORICA-BikeExchange its best ever overall result at the Tour.
Three weeks of racing saw the Australian outfit top the team classification over the first few stages before Yates won the white jersey on stage seven and held it all the way to the finish in Paris.
“We came here not really riding for the overall,” said a smiling Yates in Paris. “It just kind of happened and the whole team have been incredible in their support, all the riders and the staff who have worked so hard everyday.”
“There has been no pressure, other than I what I put on myself, we approached the race day by day and I’m very happy with how its turned out this is a fantastic honour.
“I had a bad day on stage 19 and I wasn’t sure how my legs would respond but I recovered well and here we are. I’ve won the white jersey and fourth overall and that’s very satisfying.
“I wouldn’t say that we are disappointed not to have made the podium, its one of those things. This is only my second Tour and all of the guys ahead of me have competed for the general classification in previous Grand Tours so I think we have done very well.
“The future is ahead of me and I’m sure I will be back fighting for a podium place or even challenging for the Yellow Jersey. I will try my best, you never what will happen but I’m going to continue working hard and do everything possible to improve.”
Sport director Matt White praised the effort and performance of the whole team over the course of the race, in particular that of the 23-year old Yates.
“This has been a very gratifying Tour de France for us,” said White. “We came here with ambitions to win a stage, that was our main objective so in that respect the first few were days key for us.”
“We targeted stages where we knew we had a good chance of getting a result and we did finally achieve that on stage ten, however once the first few days had passed we could begin to focus on the overall and the performances of Adam (Yates).
“Of course we knew that Adam is an incredible talent and full of potential and now I suppose the whole world also knows that. I think its very important not to put a 23-year old like Adam under too much pressure and as we saw he responded very well and maintained a high level of consistency.
“We have always had faith in Adam’s ability and the way the whole team rallied around him throughout the race has been extremely pleasing and we have achieved a great result. It really is sensational we have ticked every box, stage win, white jersey and fourth overall.”
This article is a modified version of that originally published on cyclingtips.com
*Photography by Cor Vos