After three long weeks of dreadful weather conditions, rough climbs and a number of heavy crashes, what's left of the peloton will get to savour their reward on Sunday—the 21st and final stage of the 2014 Tour de France, with the finish line on the iconic Champs-Elysees.
Stage 21 is little more than a showpiece for roughly 80 percent of the course, a chance for the leaders in every classification to ride together and sip champagne in front of the cameras.
Once the peloton enters Paris, the situation changes. The finish at the Champs-Elysees is arguably the single biggest race of the year for the sprinters, rivaled only by the Spring Classic of Milan-San Remo.
Don't expect an early break to surprise the pack on Sunday—it's the sprinters' turn to shine, one last time.
Date: Sunday, 27 July
Distance: 137.5 km
TV Info and Live Stream: NBCSN (for U.S. viewers) and ITV4 (for U.K. viewers) will be broadcasting every stage of the 2014 Tour de France, with mobile coverage available via NBC Sports' Live Extra and the ITV Player app.
|General Classification (Yellow Jersey)|
|2||Jean Christophe Peraud||AG2R||+7:52|
|5||Tejay van Garderen||BMC||+11:44|
|9||Laurens ten Dam||Belkin||+21:24|
|Points Classification (Green Jersey)|
|7||Greg van Avermaet||BMC Racing||147|
|Mountain Classification (Polka-Dot Jersey)|
|5||Jean Christophe Peraud||AG2R||85|
|6||Alessandro De Marchi||Cannondale||78|
|10||Tejay van Garderen||BMC||48|
Stage 21 is one of the shorter stages around, a very simple ride through the Essonne and on to Paris. Departing from Evry, the peloton will travel west toward the final climb of the 2014 Tour, the Cote de Briis-Sous-Forges.
Turning North, it's almost a straight line to the capital city and the finishing track on the Champs-Elysees. The riders will pass the Louvre museum and see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, and just like last year, they will pass round the Arc de Triomphe instead of turning just short. Nine laps around the track will culminate in an almost certain mass sprint.
For the second straight year event organisers have moved the stage to the evening, and the sprint on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees should take place at around 7 p.m. local time.
Following Saturday's time trial, the 2014 Tour de France has pretty much reached its conclusion. There's no point trying anything on the flat roads leading to Paris in order to move up the leaderboard—the sprint teams will have a tight handle on the peloton.
The leaders of the four classifications (Vincenzo Nibali, Peter Sagan, Rafal Majka and Thibaut Pinot) will gather and pop the champagne in front of the cameras, knowing full well the race is over.
Nibali spoke to reporters after Saturday's stage, and he explained what an incredible feeling that final stage is after three weeks of suffering, via the event's official website:
I haven't realized yet how big it is to win the Tour de France. I'll keep that for tomorrow. It's difficult to ride the Tour but the beauty of it is to cycle on the Champs-Elysées. That's the biggest memory I've kept from my first participation: the lap of honour, the enormous number of people, Paris' monuments... I'll try to savour my victory as much as I can. Every moment will count.
Every single rider is looking forward to a well-deserved holiday at this point, and that includes the top sprinters like Sagan:
The green jersey holder (and winner, if he finishes) is yet to win a single stage in this year's Tour de France, and it will surely be a point of frustration. One of the top bike handlers of the peloton, the cobbles of Paris should suit him well.
ITV Cycling thinks it would be the perfect conclusion to this year's Tour:
He'll have plenty of competition, however. Last year's winner Marcel Kittel will be eager to make it two in a row and already has three stage wins under his belt this year, and he should be the favourite in any mass sprint.
Andre Greipel, Mark Renshaw and Alexander Kristoff will be the other top contenders for the win, and they'll be joined by local favourite Bryan Coquard, who could give the fans even more reason for celebration by becoming the first Frenchman to win there since Jean-Patrick Nazon in 2003.