It is arguably overdue the Tour comes to Sèvres-Grand Paris Seine Ouest. Not because the neighbouring city of Ville-d'Avray was the finish of the inaugural 1903 edition, where, after the 471 kilometre sixth leg, 20,000 spectators inside the velodrome saw overall winner Maurice Garin stamp his mark with his third of six stage wins. Mai non, it's because the commune is the home of the Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt, or A.C.B.B.
Founded on 18 March 1943 as a result of mergers between seven different sports clubs located in Boulogne-Billancourt - now the most populous suburb of Paris and one of the most densely populated municipalities in Europe - its cycling department began some 20 years prior to the merger, under the name L'Association Cycliste de Boulogne-Billancourt. While the ACBB produced many home-grown champions de cyclisme - Pierre Adam, André Darrigade, Jacques Anquetil to name a few; the latter the first five-time winner of the Tour - it rose to greater prominence soon after 1975; the year it changed its policy to allow more foreign riders to join.
"On the last stage you've got nothing to lose: you've either got legs or you haven't got legs." - Matt White, Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director
So successful were les étrangers de ACBB they became known as the ‘Foreign Legion', whose alumni include Stephen Roche, Phil Anderson, Robert Millar, Paul Kimmage, Sean Yates, Allan Peiper, Seamus Elliott, Jacques Boyer, Graham Jones, Jaan Kirsipuu, and John Herety, as well some English TV commentator you may have heard of... Paul Sherwen.
And at the expense of the locals on ACBB and other clubs de vélo in France, they took home much of the spoils, most going on to hugely successful professional careers. While foreigners today no longer require a pathway like that offered by ACBB due to the presence of numerous ex-Europe-based trade teams, it was largely because of the club's open-door policy to Anglophones and their achievements that paved the way to the present-day success of Australian, British and American cyclists.
Outside Europe, it also brought the sport into the mainstream. In Australia and Great Britain, certainly nowhere on par with the likes of cricket, various football codes, swimming and soccer, though nevertheless slowly turning the sport from otherworldly hobby to something a little less esoteric and more widely understood... And now, to the point of witnessing the first Australian and British winner of the Tour de France in the last five years, where both Cadel Evans and Bradley Wiggins find themselves household names and embedded into the public consciousness for their landmark accomplishments.
What also brought the Tour into the mindset of the general public was the decision by organisers to move the finish of the final stage to the best known street of its most populous city (which happened to be the same year the ACBB changed their foreign recruitment policy). It's a bit hard to ignore the world's biggest annual sporting event finishing in the City of Lights!
Sure enough, forty years ago for Le Grande Première, French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing came to congratulate the day's winner, Walter Godefroot, including he who dethroned Le Cannibal Eddy Merckx, as onlookers paid witness to the crowning of overall winner Bernard Thévenet; a graduate of the Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt.
Christian Prudhomme, Directeur du Tour de France, says:
"It appeared that the Avenue des Champs-Élysées had found its master in Mark Cavendish, winner on four occasions of one of the most prestigious sprints of the season. But the triumphant power of Marcel Kittel on the last two visits has maybe marked the beginning of a new era. Paris is still to be conquered."
Matt White, Orica-GreenEDGE head sports director, says:
"I don't mind the idea of these late starts on the last stage. We're all waking up in the south of France that day, 600 kilometres away, and travelling by bus, train, plane - or boat! - to get to Paris. So, it's not the most relaxing of days, really... but it's a real nice way to finish off what is such a big event, and what is always an interesting journey around France.
"It's a little bit different when you have a sprinter, like I did (as a directeur-sportif at Garmin) when we had Tyler Farrar or even with Gossy (Matt Goss, at Orica-GreenEDGE); it's always nervous right till the end because you're chasing that elusive stage win until the finish line of the last stage.
"But, I like the idea of having a short stage on the last stage. There's nothing worse than having a long day. You get the same result whether it's one hundred or two hundred kilometres.
"Even though we're not going for the big bunch sprints this year, the pressure's not totally off. I wouldn't be surprised to see us riding aggressively on the last stage, similar to how we rode the last stage of (this year's) Giro. [On the first of seven circuits around Milan, Luke Durbridge broke away with Iljo Keisse of Etixx-Quick-Step and managed to hold off the peloton, with the Belgian winning the stage; Durbridge held on for second - ed.] On the last stage you've got nothing to lose: you've either got legs or you haven't got legs, whereas those flat stages in the first half of the Tour you have got something to lose and you're always thinking about how you expend your energy, because you'll pay for it later on.
"For the riders, I think the most enjoyable part is doing that lap (of the Champs-Élysées) once the Tour's over. I think they all feel like they've had a win, whether you were in a team that contested the last stage or you came up a little bit short, or you weren't a factor at all. It's a celebration; it's an achievement. Every rider (who makes it to Paris) should be pleased with themselves... It's not a small achievement, finishing the Tour de France, that's for sure."