Today’s win means that Wout Van Aert has won three stages on this year’s Tour – a time trial, a mountain stage and a bunch sprint. He’s the ultimate all-rounder.
I thought the extra 350m between the final corner and the finish line would play into Cavendish’s hands, but in the end it set up Van Aert to power into the lead. Cavendish got clear of Matthews but got caught in a battle with Alpecin-Fenix’s Jasper Philipsen, and ended up boxed in by the railings as Van Aert proved uncatchable.
Tadej Pogacar wins the 2021 Tour de France!
Behind all the mayhem, Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) rolls over the line to win his second Tour de France. He has been the dominant rider for almost the entire race, winning by more than five minutes. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo Visma) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos) finish a distant second and third.
Van Aert denies Cavendish to win stage 21!
It’s not to be for Mark Cavendish, boxed in by an extraordinary late charge from Wout Van Aert! He’ll have to settle for the green jersey and a share of Eddy Merckx’s record – for now.
1km to go: As the trains weave through the Place de la Concorde, it’s looking like a two-way battle between QuickStep and BikeExchange … but Van Aert isn’t out of it yet …
2km: Matthews’ BikeExchange team move forward, along with Cofidis. QuickStep have lost prime position but are looking to regroup as they go into the tunnel a final time …
3km: Alaphilippe drops off, his part in the leadout done. Four QuickStep riders are out in front of Cavendish, with Wout van Aert lurking ominously behind them …
4km: Bahrain-Victorious move to get their man, Sonny Colbrelli, in a good position as Cavendish slots in behind Michael Morkov in the QuickStep lead-out train …
5km: A few last-ditch attacks on the hill up to the Arc de Triomphe, but they’re quickly snuffed out. Bora-Hansgrohe take the front, but it’s still all a little tentative …
One circuit to go!
The breakaway is caught as the bell rings for the final 6.7km lap. Cavendish’s QuickStep team still look to be in control of things – can they help him get stage win No 35? We’re about to find together.
10km to go: Franck Bonnamour, winner of this year’s combativity award, is one of those to make the move – but he’s quickly caught and the front three will surely be too. QuickStep are still setting the pace, with Greipel’s Israel StartUp Nation also involved.
12km to go: Back around the Arc de Triomphe we go, an enormous tricolore fluttering in the archway. A couple of lads from the B&B Hotels team break out, probably just to earn their sponsors some more airtime. Happy to help.
15km to go: We have just over two circuits of the Champs-Élysées to go, with QuickStep still controlling the race and Pogacar tucked away in midfield. History awaits.
18km to go: The sprinters’ trains are entering wind-up mode, slowly increasing the pace and starting to jostle for position. The leading trio have a gap of 30 seconds, but nobody in the peloton is too concerned.
“Was any reason given for going back to the procession and sprint after 1989?” asks Robert Morgan. “It seems strange to reject a format that gave us one of the most memorable finishes ever.”
Good question, and one I don’t have an immediate answer for. Perhaps the fact that it was a French rider (Fignon) who was denied in such painful fashion has something to do with it.
Orlando emails in to say that the relatively weak field of sprinters this year undermines Cavendish’s achievement this year. Boo, everyone. Boo!
But seriously, point taken. None of the last four finale winners – Groenewegen, Kristoff, Ewan and Bennett – are here, after all. André Greipel is retiring, Marcel Kittel has already retired – but in a way that shows the fleeting nature of sprint success, and makes Cavendish’s comeback all the more remarkable.
28km to go: That first breakaway has been swalled up, with Bora’s Ide Schelling trying to go away on his own. He is followed by Julian Alaphilippe and Philippe Gilbert and they eke out a 15-second gap.
30km to go: Here’s how the green jersey race stands after that intermediate sprint. If Matthews wins the stage, Cav needs to finish eighth or higher.
1. Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick Step) 317 2. Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) 279 3. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) 223
Intermediate sprint: Stefan Bissegger gets over the line first but in the real battle behind the breakaway, Cavendish beats Matthews to the line. Barring disaster, he’ll take the green jersey home.
“If the gap going into the final day was a handful of seconds would there be competition for yellow?” asks Niall Scott. It’s a possibility but outside of that aforementioned 1989 time trial, it hasn’t happened – even in 2007, when Cadel Evans trailed Alberto Contador by just 23 seconds before the final day.
It’s one of sport’s strange unwritten rules – partly tradition, partly down to the sheer difficulty of carving out any kind of lead on a flat stage with GC contenders fiercely protected by their teams.
42km to go: We have a breakaway! The stage 16 winner, Patrick Konrad of Bora-Hansgrohe, is part of it, alongside Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-Nippo) and Harry Sweeny (Lotto-Soudal). Julian Alaphilippe is leading the peloton with the three-man group pulling 30 seconds clear.
50km to go: The riders will complete this circuit of the Champs-Élysees eight times before the finish line, with an intermediate sprint during the third lap. Cavendish hasn’t quite secured the green jersey yet: Michael Matthews can still catch him, but probably needs to win the intermediate and the stage, and for Cavendish to have a major off-day.
55km to go: The pack have cruised through the grounds of the Louvre and are passing the finish line for the first time. It’s a little different this year, 350m further up the slight incline that leads to the Arc de Triomphe. That will make position on the final corner less crucial than it usually is …
60km to go: The pack are heading north now, back towards the Seine where they will cross over and begin circling the Champs-Élysees. Cavendish has won four times on the cobbles before – four in a row between 2009 and 2012.
65km to go: The last time this final stage didn’t end in a bunch sprint was in 2005, when Alexander Vinoukorov pulled off a breakaway win. Nobody showing any intention of trying something similar today as the pack enters Paris, turning right away from the banks of the Seine.
“Has the Tour always terminated at Champs-Élysées. and has the yellow jersey ever been lost on the last stage of the Tour?” asks William Hill (presumably not that one).
It’s seen as a grand Tour tradition but in fact, the Champs-Élysées finish was only introduced in 1975. The race has always finished in Paris, but traditionally ended on a track – either at the Parc des Princes or the Vélodrome de Vincennes.
As for the yellow jersey changing hands, it doesn’t happen on these processional final stages leading up to a bunch sprint at the line – but back in 1989 there was a time trial to Paris, with Greg LeMond pipping the man in yellow, Laurent Fignon, by eight seconds.
70km to go: The pack have passed the Palace of Versailles and are headed for their last stretch of woodland before they enter Meudon on the way into Paris proper.
Chris Froome has been named the Tour’s nicest rider by the on-road camera crew. Not the biggest prize he’s claimed in Paris, but he’s happy nonetheless. “I’m incredibly proud to have got through a Tour that was as intense as this one,” he says.
“[There have been] as few finishers as we’ve had in the past 20 years in the race. So really proud to be getting to Paris, and to be back in the Tour de France after the accident I had.” Will be back in 2022? “I hope so, I hope so.”
Jumbo Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard is set to finish second in the Tour de France today. The Dane only signed up to the team in April, and was expected to work as a lieutenant for Primoz Roglic after they finished first and second in the Tour of the Basque County.
After Roglic was forced out early in the race, Vingegaard took his chance to make the podium instead. It’s quite the breakthrough for the 24-year-old, who not so long ago was working in a fish factory and training after his shift finished.
Today’s route initially took the peloton away from Paris, but they’re now circling back towards Versailles. Incidentally, if you’d rather go and put your head in the fridge for the next 90 minutes*, you can sign up for sport alerts via the Guardian app, and get a notification when the result comes in! Details below.
*Don’t put your head in the fridge – not for 90 minutes, anyway
85km to go: They are going at a leisurely, Sunday afternoon pace out there with the Champs-Élysées still a long way off.
Incidentally, there’s been no champagne reception on the road; the winning team didn’t do so last year on account of their Emirati backers and have stuck with that, despite a relaxation of alcohol laws in some parts of the country. Beyond them, it seems nobody without a stake in today’s outcome has much to celebrate.
At the top of that Cat 4 climb, Mikkel Bjerg rides clear of his UAE-Emirates teammates to claim his first King of the Mountains point and prompt much mirth from Pogacar and the rest of the team behind him.
Today is the final Tour stage for sprint legend André Greipel, who announced earlier this week he will retire at the end of the season. ‘The Gorilla’ has won 22 Tour stages in his career – 11 at the Tour, seven at the Giro and four in the Vuelta.
Pogacar had a chat with former Tour winner Alberto Contador on Eurosport before the race about his imminent second Tour title.
“It’s something just incredible … it’s hard to explain how I feel, it’s something beyond a dream. Last year was really different, there was no pressure, I was happy with second place … this year I had the yellow jersey from the first week, but I’m proud of both, just the same.”
He’s asked whether he might race in the Vuelta, and doesn’t rule it out – although his focus is on the Olympics and then enjoying a bit of recovery time after going “full gas” since February.
One rider has not started today’s stage – Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang has retired from the race early in order to save his legs for the upcoming Olympic road race in Japan.
Fuglsang, who took the silver medal in Rio, has struggled in this year’s race, and has put it down to mild side-effects from his second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Bradley Wiggins is out on the back of the Eurosport moped, still bravely sticking with his sheepskin jacket despite the searing heat. He heaps praise on Pogacar for “winning his own race” and not following the traditional, team-driven path.
The yellow-jersey winner is currently rolling up the final classified climb of this year’s Tour – a Category 4 bump in the road – with his teammates still alongside him.
“Form dips, class is forever. Cav’s fans always supported him and never deserted him,” writes Tracey Gerrard. “I recognise he’s a Marmite character but those who love him do so with the same passion he has for cycling. I’ve followed him throughout his career, some bike riders are good, some are excellent but he is la crème de la crème.”
My A-Level French is a little rusty, but I think that means he’s good.
On the road, today’s stage has begun in the south-western suburbs of Paris. They’re passing through Saint-Germain-de-Laye, a town whose name and coat of arms are known around the world thanks to Paris Saint-Germain FC.
Pogacar moves clear at the front with his UAE-Team Emirates teammates, whose white kits and bikes are kitted out with yellow trim. They pose together for a photo opportunity as the pack labours up the hill behind them.
Here is the general classification heading into today’s final stage. Pogacar is on course to win by more than five minutes – the biggest winning margin since Vincenzo Nibali in 2014.
Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Emirates)
Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) +5’20”
Richard Carapaz (Ineos) +7’03”
Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroen) +10’02”
Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe) +10’13”
Enric Mas (Movistar) +11’43”
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) +12’23”
Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) +15’33”
Peio Bilbao (Bahrain) +16’04”
Rigoberto Uran (EF-Nippo) +18’34”
Don’t forget to join Scott Murray too, as the battle for the Claret Jug heats up:
The Tour’s top boys are leading the way as they set out from the leafy Paris suburb of Chatou. Tricolores line the route as Tadej Pogacar and Mark Cavendish are joined by the polka-dot and white jersey wearers, Wout Poels and Jonas Vingegaard. Those last two jerseys belong to Pogacar, too, but he only has room on his back for one.
It’s a big day of sport elsewhere, not least Silverstone, where Max Verstappen has crashed out of the British GP after a first-lap collision with Lewis Hamilton. Throw open another window and check in with Daniel Harris:
Good afternoon. Hot enough for you? The mercury is rising towards 30 degrees in Paris, where the Tour de France will conclude in around three hours. The final stage is seen as a procession save for the final sprint along the Champs-Élysées, although it probably won’t feel like that for most of the pack after three weeks of racing.
This edition of the Tour has been defined by two people (OK, maybe three people). Firstly, the relentless, remarkable Tadej Pogacar, who is about to follow up last year’s last-gasp win with a very different victory. The Slovenian has been supremely dominant, in control of this race throughout the entire month of July.
More on him later, of course, but at the finish line today all eyes will be on the 2021 Tour’s other superstar, Mark Cavendish. Just coming back to the race felt like a huge achievement; not even the man himself could have expected four stage wins and the chance to rewrite cycling history.
Win today, and Cavendish will overtake Eddy Merckx’s record of Tour stage wins. The Belgian’s tally of 34 stage wins is a symbol of his all-round dominance. Nobody was supposed to actually beat it, but here we are. Cav’s moment of truth will arrive at around 7pm local time (6pm BST); before then, a chance to sip some champagne in the sun.