Lotto-Soudal sprinter André Greipel kept alive his record of winning at least one stage in every Tour de France he has entered with a win on the Champs Elysées Sunday, July 24, 2016, beating Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff and Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan by a few inches in front of roaring crowds in the heart of Paris.
Greipel’s Lotto-Soudal squad set up a perfect four-rider leadout for him with 1400 meters to go; Sagan, seeing this, immediately latched onto the Lotto sprinter’s wheel. Katusha squeezed into the Lotto train, and coming into the final few hundred meters, it was Katusha’s Alexander Kristoff leading Greipel and Sagan.
Kristoff launched his sprint at about 300 meters; Greipel waited a moment then followed. The big Austrian was too strong for his Norwegian rival, but it was world champion Peter Sagan who nearly snatched away the win at the line. Sagan waited perhaps a second too long; he came around Greipel but was a few inches late to the line.
When asked how he felt, the powerful Austrian, known as “The Gorilla,” replied, “I cannot describe it. I am just super proud that it all worked out on the last day and also with the team: how they believed in me during the last three weeks. They always kept tying, trying, trying but I never could succeed. Now we have won two stages with Thomas De Gendt and me on the Champs Elysées.
“We had a good plan this morning. With the headwind, I just tried to stay calm with the whole team, and once we hit the front, we hit the front. We were one guy too short, but I chose the wheel of Kristoff, which was the best today. I am really happy that I could finish it off and get another stage win in the Tour de France.”
The 34-year-old Austrian sprinter had to change his bike twice early in the stage due to mechanical issues, dissatisfaction with gearing, potentially. Once he had the right bike, he benefitted from a few bad breaks which struck his opponents.
Marcel Kittel of Etixx-Quickstep, who won on the Champs-Elysées in 2013 ans 2014, had a series of mechanical problems shortly after reaching the streets of Paris. The big German had to take a new bike, and then get that new bike repaired, all the while the peloton was racing away to chase a seven-rider break.
To further complicate matters, his strongest team mate, Tony Martin, had to withdraw with knee pain, leaving Kittle to catch back up on his own.
Without Martin to martial the troops, the Etixx leadout train never fully organized and Kittel wasn’t factor in the final sprint.
Another dangerous sprinter, Direct Energie’s Bryan Coquard, was stricken with a flat tire 2.4 km from the finish, and never had a chance to catch up.
Even so, Greipel had to beat Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan, and he did, using Kristoff’s leadout rider to his own advantage, and timing his sprint to account for the headwind.
Three Tours for Froome
Sky’s team leader Chris Froome stayed safe in the peloton through the 113-km stage; he had already asserted his dominance throughout the previous 20 stages and no one was going to challenge him on the traditional procession to Paris.
On the podium, taking his trophy and the stuffed lion emblematic of the Tour, Froome addressed the crowd: “My son Kellan: this victory is for you.
“My thoughts go again to those who lost their lives in the tragedy in Nice. The values of sport are so important to a free society.
“We all love the Tour de France. We love the Tour because it’s unpredictable. But we love the more for what stays the same: the passion of the fans from every nation along the road side, the beauty of the French countryside and the bonds of friendship created through a true sport. These things will never change. Just one more thing: Merci pour votre gentillesse pendant ces difficiles semaines. Vive le Tour et vive la France!” (Roughly translated: “Thank you for your great hospitality during these difficult weeks. Long live the Tour and long live the France.”)
He told TV reporters later, “”It’s amazing, amazing. It doesn’t wear off after two times. Rolling on the Champs-Elysées is the same, it’s an amazing feeling. My team-mates 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,” according to LeTour.com
Froome, only 31, has now won three Tours de France—2013, 2015, and now 2016—as well as six stages, and the King of the Mountain classification in 2015. He might well have won in 2014 if he wasn’t forced to withdraw after suffering thee crashes in two days.
Better Plan, Better Outcome
Froome used the experience gained in his two previous wins to plan his course through the 21 stages of the 2016 race. He knew that in previous years he had come out strong and attacked early, but burned out in the final week, which left him vulnerable. This year he decided to come to the Tour in a slightly less tuned-up state, so that he could not only last through the Tour but also have something left for the Rio Olympics.
Instead of attacking all-out on the hardest mountain stages early in the race, Froome opted to mete out his energy more parsimoniously. He didn’t attack on the final climb in the first mountain stage, Stage Eight; instead he attacked unexpectedly on the descent, winning the stage and the race leader’s yellow jersey.
The next three stages were sprint stages, so Froome didn’t have to expend much energy to keep the lead. And again, he used his energy wisely: in Stage 11, nominally a flat stage with a sprint finish, Froome followed an attack in the fierce crosswinds by Tinkoff’s Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar and extended his lead even further, without having to expend a lot of energy.
Froome did show his strength on Stage 12, where he finally launched the mountain attacks for which he is known. Even here he did not go as hard as he had in the past, content to expand his lead by seconds rather than minutes.
In fact it wasn’t until the two individual time trials, Stages 13 and 18, that Froome really unleashed his full power and gained a sizeable chunk of time on his rivals. The time gained in these solo races against the clock allowed him to relax in the following mountain stages; his rivals had to attack him, while Froome had a cushion of protection.
That cushion proved invaluable as the Sky leader crashed hard on the dangerous wet descent from Montée de Brisanne in Stage 19. Even though he was bloody and battered, Froome managed to keep his lead through the rest of that stage and the whole of Stage 20. Froome lost a little time to his rivals, but he had time to lose.
Ultimately, Froome cruised home to a win in Paris with a four-minute gap on Ag2R’s Romain Bardet, and almost four-and-a-half minutes on his strongest threat, Movistar’s Nairo Quintana.