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Tour stage 21 preview: Everything ends

Rambouillet - Paris (128km)

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Okay folks, you know the drill by now. Last stage “preview” is kept to a bare minimum, and instead we’ll use this space to show off some of the better pictures of the Tour, and a few memories and reflections. Previously, I’ve tied the whole thing to a song. Today, we’re going with film quotes. That’s partly because my musical knowledge is terrible, and partly because there’s one line that I think of when I try and summarise the 2019 Tour.

The final stage

Anyway, the last stage. It is what it always is – a run into Paris from the suburbs, featuring lots of smiles and laughter, champage/beer, photos and chatting. Then we hit the best-known crit course in the world for laps of central Paris. This year, the suburb is Rambouillet, there are nine laps of the finishing circuit to catch the doomed break(s) and the weather will be [checks. Checks again. In disbelief, checks on a different website] fine. So it’ll be time for another sprint.

With organisation at a premium and leading into the final bend essential, it is advantage to the teams who’ve got more riders still going well. That is excellent news for Lotto, less good for Jumbo (injured riders) and Decuninck (exhaustion). So on that basis I’d give a marginal advantage to Caleb Ewan over Elia Viviani and Dylan Groenewegen. But I’m nothing if not stubborn so I’ll stick with Dylan Groenewegen as the winner. Look for Peter Sagan to kick off his celebrations in green with a cheeky podium.

On to the photos, quotes, and final thoughts:

Some sadness-tinged memories

“Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end” – Cocktail. [1]

“We were so close…” Apollo 13.

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I don’t know where to start for Julian Alaphilippe, except to say that he was the story of the Tour, exceeding everyone’s expectations. Having grabbed yellow with a stage three break on terrain perfectly suited to him, he held on in the early mountains, won the individual time trial, clung on in the Pyrenees and was, somehow, leading with just two Alpine stages to go. Having been dropped on stage 18 and held on with a diminished lead, he was dropped again on stage 19 and the race was neutralised before he was given the chance to come back (or lose more time) and then, no longer in yellow, was comprehensively dropped on stage 20.

In the long book of “no French winners” this chapter will be remembered. It was beautiful, glorious, and doomed. Huge credit to Ala for making us dream for so long.

“Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end” – Cocktail [2]

“All the arguing in the world can’t change the decision of an umpire” – Pride of the Yankees.

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When you think of a single, dramatic stage of a grand tour, where does your mind go? I think for me it is the Cadel Evans mud-splattered white roads Giro stage. Or at least, it was until stage 19. It gave us everything, except an ending. With Julian Alaphilippe cracked and Egan Bernal up the road, horrendous weather conditions left the organisers with no option but to stop the stage – and, shortly after, to neuter the penultimate stage. Just like that, Egan Bernal was de facto the Tour winner. There was no good decision and the situation was desperate, but the polemica will live forever.

“Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end” – Cocktail. [3]

“That is what ‘to the pain’ means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.” - The Princess Bride

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Alas, poor Thibaut. We’ll never know if he could have hung on with Bernal (as I say, the 2019 chapter of the “no French winners” book will be a thick one) but it was a cruel twist of fate that injury robbed him of the chance to compete for a podium, just as his pneumonia did in the 2018 Giro. For such a talented rider, in the form of his career, this was brutal. You can say that physical resilience, like bike handling, is a secondary “skill” that a grand tour rider must master, and I’d agree. That doesn’t stop it being hideous to watch.

“Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end” – Cocktail. [4]

“Pain heals, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever” – The Replacements.

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If Alaphilippe won’t do you as a “Classics guy who lit up the Tour”, may I interest you in Wout van Aert? After helping Jumbo to three wins in the first seven stages, he grabbed a win himself on a tough uphill finish to stage 10, demonstrating to everyon’s satisfaction that he can do anything. Then he was out, sent home with a huge and alarming gash in his leg. He will be back and he’ll continue to be a rider you can never, ever take your eyes off.

“Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end” – Cocktail. [5]

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate” – Cool Hand Luke

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We know by now that the Tour de France is also the Tour de Politics, and the Tour de Transfer. This year, it was the Tour of Ugly Divorces. We saw the end of the relationship between Rohan Dennis and Bahrain, the beginning of the end for Nairo Quintana and Movistar, and perhaps the beginning of the end for Gianni Moscon and Ineos. This felt like a race with more than the usual discordance between riders and the team cars.

Put all of that together and this makes it sound like I’ve not enjoyed the Tour at all. Far from it – this has been a great race, full of pleasure and excitement and suspense. As I write this, I do feel bittersweet, but there’s lots of good memories, too. Let’s take a pause, get a drink, and come back to think happier thoughts.

Amy’s wine of the day

For this stage, any Champagne seems right, but I went fancy.

Pierre Paillard Les Parcelles Bouzy Grand Cru.

The importer tells me that: Pierre Paillard is a small grower‐producer of Champagnes located in the Grand Cru village of Bouzy. Since Antoine Paillard bought vineyards there in 1768, the Paillard family has been cultivating vines in this prestigious village, and today, Antoine and Quentin Paillard represent the eighth generation in the family and the fourth generation to produce, and bottle the wines under their family name.Bouzy is one of the 17 villages in the Champagne region that has been classified as Grand Cru, the highest classification that can be awarded.

It is renowned for producing some of the finest Pinot Noir in all of Champagne as its situation on the south‐facing side of the Montagne de Reims is ideal for the difficult to ripen Pinot Noir grape. The wines of Bouzy tend to be more rich and powerful with expressive noses, and as Antoine Paillard says, the challenge for them in Bouzy is not achieving ripeness as is the case in much of the Champagne region, but rather maintaining balance and freshness.

Some happy memories

“Made it, Ma! Top of the World!” – White Heat

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Egan Bernal, the future is now. Having missed his Giro appointment, and soon after seen expected team leader Chris Froome suffer a serious injury, Bernal found himself co-leader for the Tour. He rode his luck but proved once again that he’s an exceptional climber and in the end, took home a Tour victory. He’ll be third-youngest winner ever and the first Colombian to take a yellow jersey home.

“I’m not happy, but I’m not unhappy about it.” – The History Boys

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For all the rest of Team Ineos, what can you really say? They came here with a plan to leave with yellow, so by the only metric that matters, this was a successful Tour. On the other hand, there’s definitely work to be done. Gianni Moscon contributed nothing, and they got little more from Mikal Kwiatkowski. Luke Rowe did his thing until being (unfairly, I think) thrown from the race. Whilst Dylan van Baarle exceeded expectations in the mountains and Wout Poels came good for the Alps, this was not a dominant team performance from Ineos. They leave with a win and a second place so can’t complain, but behind closed doors I think there’ll be analysis of how isolated their two main riders were on such a focused and high-budget team.

“Yeah, beware the small man... Always beware the small man. He’ll fuck you every time. Because they never forget, do they? All that grief they got at school. Over and over, and for the rest of their miserable short-arsed lives, someone’s got to pay.” – Kill Your Friends

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I don’t know why I don’t take Caleb Ewan seriously, but I really should, especially this season as he enjoys a great year. You can’t really look at the stage winners and say that we’ve seen a dominant sprinter but Ewan has the best case on offer. Could make it a hattrick of stages with a win tomorrow. Also, I just really like this quotation.

“Today, I settle all family business” – The Godfather

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Simon Yates will doubtless be the happier brother. Poor Adam once again got found out at the highest level as a GC threat, but freed of domestiqueing duties, Simon went out and won two stages, which go alongside a win each for Daryl Impey and Matteo Trentin to prove once again that Mitchelton-Scott are never caught without a plan B.

“Oh, them. They’re the dance people. They’re here to keep the guests happy.” – Dirty Dancing

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I just wanted to finish on a high note. As I’ve said, lots of broken dreams in this Tour. Lots of chaos. As always, it is frustratingly commercial and atrociously directed for TV. Yet the magic of cycling always finds a way through. I’ve enjoyed following along with you. Huge thanks to everyone chipping in the live threads. On behalf of Conor and myself, huge thanks to Chris, Jens and Shawn and to the FSA-DS team for all the work, and most of all, to these lunatics on the top of a mountain who have made me smile every day since I first saw this.

Chapeau to every rider who makes it to Paris. Let’s do this again next year.