The city of lights will, in fact, be lit up for an evening showdown on the final day of the Tour de France. In a break with tradition, the 21-stage cycling race will start later than usual from Versailles around 6:15 p.m. local time and will end 83 miles later in Paris with 10 laps of a circuit up and down the Champs-Elysees.
The winners of the 100th Tour de France were pretty much set on Saturday at the end of the 20th stage. For the second year in a row a Brit takes the coveted yellow jersey grand prize. Last year Chris Froome was part of the two-man Britannia triumph when he came in second after his teammate, Bradley Wiggins. This year, the Nairobi-born Froome is finishing the race with about a five-minute lead over the second place cyclist, Colombian Nairo Quintana who, it’s fair to say, has triumphed in his first-ever Tour de France. In addition to coming in second over-all, Quintana is expected to hold two other distinctive jerseys: The polka-dog jersey for best climber (aka King of the Mountains) and the white jersey for best overall young rider.
Even though Froome spent the better part of the Tour holding the yellow jersey, he told reporters after yesterday’s stage that it wasn’t until he passed the sign indicating two kilometers to go to the finish that he let himself believe he was actually going to win the Tour.
“It actually became quite hard to concentrate,” he said. “A very emotional feeling.”
In general, Tour de France organizers were a bit worried how this year’s race would play out. It’s first Tour since American Lance Armstrong admitted (some would say “finally”) to using performing enhancing drugs and forcing his teammates to do the same during his racing career. Sponsorship for the Tour itself was down and race organizers were worried about the Tour’s ability to attract its usual global excitement. Their concerns proved unfounded, as it turns out. According to Sports Media Watch, viewership was up nearly a third over last year and hundreds of thousands of fans came out to stand by the race course and watch the cyclists whiz past.
As far as accidents and mishaps – or as NPR’s Mike Pesca called it on Weekend Edition Sunday, “Chaos,” – there was relatively little in this year’s race. Perhaps it helped that the weather cooperated with few rainy days, but there were only a few crashes that forced riders to drop out of the race. On the second day of the race there was a dog who wandered onto the course but ended up doing no harm. And a spectator threw urine at British national champion Mark Cavendish during one of the time trials – an incident that claimed to make him “sad,” but not angry. Apparently, the ordure flinging did prompt Lance Armstrong to pipe up his surprise that anyone made a big deal about it at all. Armstrong tweeted:
Vive la France! Vive le Tour!