The final act, the final sprint. The British and Germans have dominated on the Champs Élysées in recent years, with Gert Steegmans, a Belgian, the last man to strike a blow for the rest of the world in 2008.
We've had Greipel, Greipel, Kittel, Kittel, Cavendish, Cavendish, Cavendish, Cavendish in that order working back from last year, with André Greipel landing the hat-trick last year ahead of Sagan and Kristoff. Can anyone muscle in on the German dominance this year?
The usual procession into Paris, a short run of just 105kms, 58kms of which are doing the laps around the Champs Élysées. After 45kms they enter the circuit and do 9 laps of the 6.5kms circuit, before the final charge up the cobbles of the most famous finishing straight in cycling.
Contenders and Favourites
So who will win it in Kittel's absence then? Well if you are looking for horses for courses, it's hard to look past André Greipel - 1st, 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th in recent years, he knows what it takes to get a result on the Champs. But Lotto Soudal has not fired at all when it came to lead-outs for sprints and Greipel himself has been 'embarrassed' by his own performance. Can he turn it around on the final stage and get that win to keep the record going?
Marcel Sieberg is going to be a big loss to him though in the lead-out, and as strong as the other riders like Benoot, Gallopin and De Gendt have been, they really are not lead-out men. If he is as tired as I think he is, and if his lead-out is as bad as I think it will be, then it might see him swamped and in a bad position coming into the last 500m, will he have the power to overcome that deficit and get up on time like he did last year? I'm not sure, and with the possibility of rain as well, I am not interested in him at just 5/2.
Edvald Boasson Hagen won brilliantly for us on Friday, he was just so powerful and confident he didn't even wait for the sprint, he just took off on his own with less than 2kms to go and there was no catching him. And I think that even if they went to a sprint he'd have won that too. He has a pretty excellent record on the Champs, he was 4th in 2015, beating Demare, Cavendish, Sagan, Dege and Matthews, and he was 4th also in 2016, just behind Greipel, Sagan and Kristoff, and in 2011 he was 2nd behind Cavendish. His powerful frame and high speed is perfect for this bumpy slog to the line, and he is sure to be close again this year. In fact, I'd have him as my favourite nearly for this, especially if the road is going to be wet. I think his lead-out is better, and he is far stronger looking than Greipel. He is 4/1 with PP and that looks a pretty decent bet to me.
Dylan Groenewegen had issues in this stage last year too and finished down in 164th, but he was given the 0"00' time on PCS, suggesting that he had a crash late on and was given the same time as the winner, I can't remember or see anything that explains what happened. He has finished in 2nd, 3rd, 5th and two 6ths so far in the Tour and came close to beating Kittel in stage 11. He has a strong lead-out, with some really good rouleurs to drag him into position in the last kilometre, and if he can get in a good position coming into the last 300m he has a chance of taking a very good result here I think, he would be one of those better suited by a wet road too I think.
Alexander Kristoff has come close on the Champs before, finishing 2nd, 3rd twice and 6th, he led down the finishing straight last year until Greipel turned on the afterburners and shot past him in the last 100m. He has the power to take it up from a long way out on the Champs' bumpy, cobbled road and can drive hard while others trail in his wake. Last year though Greipel said that he knew there was a headwind so he waited, whereas Kristoff took it up early. I think Kristoff could well do something similar this year and be passed in the last 100m again by 2 or 3 guys, so he's a man for the 4th to 9th place bets.
Nacer Bouhanni hasn't got in a blow in this Tour at all, his lead-out has been dreadful and he has looked uninterested and slow. Can he finally come alive on this most revered of stages? Interestingly, from what I could make out in Friday's stage, he was in the main peloton while Kristoff, Greipel, and Groenewegen were being dropped, so maybe he's starting to feel a little better. John Degenkolb has been hit and miss this Tour, and incredibly he has finished 2nd six times in stages of the Tour, but has never won a stage yet. He has a poor record on the Champs too though and I'm not touching him either this year I think, I can see him finishing 7th or 8th maybe
Michael Matthews has the honor of riding down the Champs Élysées in Green, but can he cap off a memorable Tour with a victory here? He has been riding superbly well, climbing better than any sprinter, and possibly even better than Sagan had he been here. He is still looking very strong here and the team is riding on a crest of a wave with two jerseys in their hands, and with Curvers, Ten Dam, Geschke, Arndt, Teunnisen and Timmer to lead him out, Matthews could be one of the first on to the finishing straight. If Arndt can drag him to 300m to go he has a great chance of taking a podium position.
One that interests me at a big price though is Fabio Sabatini. The QuickStep team boss Brian Holm was quoted today as having said that "Kittel's lead-out man will get a chance to sprint tomorrow" and that lead-out man is Sabatini. He was super strong for Kittel all during this race and he deserves a chance to go for it himself. He'll have the powerful Vermote, Stybar, and Bauer working for him and if he can hold back his sprint for as late as possible he could just take a podium spot. He's 80/1 with 365 and also I fancy him at 11/8 to beat Cimolai if he is sprinting.
And then you have all the rest - Ben Swift, Sonny Colbrelli, Dion Smith, Davide Cimolai and Nikias Arndt - maybe Matthews might lead-out Arndt and give him a shot for all his work, he was unlucky in the stage on Friday and did a really good TT, he seems to have good legs.. but they might be a bit dead after all that effort of the last two days.
Jens Keukeleire impressed me Friday, he was very strong, he's the kind of guy I could see take a flyer off the front late on. He was 500/1 with PP when they opened, he was quickly cut to 80s, but I managed to get 500 on Betfair for a small amount. Not only could take a flyer, but he hasn't a bad sprint on him either if he manages to get himself in the mix. You can still get 120 on Betfair, he has been chopped to 66/1 with most of the bookies now.
Stefan Kung, Sylvain Chavanel, Daryl Impey, Maciej Bodnar, Tony Martin or Steve Cummings could all try too, although Steve Cummings really looks like he couldn't be bothered anymore.
It looks most likely to be a sprint again though and I want to have Groenewegen and EBH onside, I can't trust Greipel as good as he is on the Champs, and Kristoff, Degenkolb, and Bouhanni could be anywhere, Matthews too - he might not even sprint.
1pt each-way on Dylan Groenewegen at 9/2 with Skybet
2pts win on EBH at 4/1 with PP
0.3pts win on Jens Keukeleire at 120 on betfair
0.25pts each-way on Fabio Sabatini at 80/1 with Bet365Match Bets