• Peerless: when all is said and done, Chris Froome was once again the best. (AAP)Source: AAP
If you got to Paris by pedal power, provided you crossed the Champs-Élysées eight times and completed the other 20 stages within the time limit, you can tell your Significant Others (SO) you’ve finished the Tour de France. That’s something to brag about.
Cycling Central
23 Jul 2017 - 4:53 PM  UPDATED 23 Jul 2017 - 5:54 PM

Of course, if you completed the 3,540 kilometres faster than the 197 others you began Le Grand Shindig with three weeks and two days ago, then you can also tell your SO you won the Tour de France. Now that is something to brag about!

That man, of course, is Christopher Froome.

Much has been said and written that the Kenyan-born Brit was not as sharp as in 2013, ‘15 and ‘16. His 32-year-old legs; the lack of a knockout punch; that he has not won a race this season - and still hasn’t - were evidence of that. Until yesterday in Marseille, they said it was the closest-fought Tour in history. (And yes, this writer also said so.) They said his team was not as strong as the previous years he won.

None of this really matters anymore, for he has done it again.

Still, it’s worth analysing the aforementioned statements. The only time his legs failed him was Stage 12 to Peyragudes, but as both he and Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said, it was “more a fuelling thing than a physical thing”. Yes, there was no stage-winning psychological body blow like in 2013 to Ax 3 Domaines or Mont Ventoux; or La Pierre Saint-Martin in 2014; or the downhill run to Bagnères-de-Luchon and the Megève time trial victory of yesteryear.

But he didn’t need to. 

"Given the parcours we had, it was always the tactic to race a three-week race and not to go out with the aim of blowing the race apart and smashing it for the stage win," Froome said Saturday at the traditional race winner's press conference.

"It has been very much a Grand Tour in the sense that it has been really about the three weeks, and doing those three weeks in the most conservative and efficient manner. It wasn't about one single stage, and that's what Grand Tour racing is."

In fact, it wasn’t until the final two-and-a-half kilometres of the final mountain stage to the Col d’Izoard that Froome felt the need to attack. Even then he was not completely at the front; he was bridging to his team-mate Mikel Landa (was was behind Warren Barguil), most likely in an attempt to put two Team Sky riders on the Paris podium as they did in 2012, the year Bradley Wiggins won. After all, he knew he would have the measure of Rigoberto Uran and Romain Bardet, the two closest to him on GC, in the 22.5 kilometre TT in Marseille - which indeed turned out to be the case, finishing third-fastest behind Maciej Bodnar and team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski, the latter quite easily the finest domestique we saw this Tour.

Bardet clinches Tour third by a single second
Barring any misfortune, Romain Bardet will finish third on the podium tomorrow in Paris, a year after he completed the race in second place overall.
Fortress Froome unshakable in Marseille, Bodnar wins stage
Chris Froome (Sky) finished with the third fastest time in Marseille and now faces just the procession to Paris for overall victory in the 2017 Tour de France.

So yes, going into the final TT, the time differences were close, though barring disaster, the podium outcome was assured, at least as far as first and second were concerned. It was Bardet who had to fight hardest to save his spot; the reality was that he was not fighting Froome or Uran but himself. This was a parcours that favoured the Frenchman more than anyone. If he cannot improve against the clock without sacrificing his uphill prowess, then it’s unlikely he will win a Tour against Froome - or anyone else with similar TT pedigree, for that matter. Same goes for maillot à pois Barguil: there will be no difficult decisions required between now and next July, for Team Sunweb know full-well Giro d’Italia champion Tom Dumoulin, not 'Wawa', is their best bet to challenge Froome et al.

As for Uran, well, not even he saw second coming. In Düsseldorf three-and-a-half weeks ago he ran 95th in the opening TT, conceding 51 seconds to Froome; all things being equal, he will end in Paris 54 seconds in arrears. So, for the most part, he was on par with Froome, but at the same time, he never really tested him. The only time the Colombian was off the front was in the sprint to Chambéry at the end of the crash-marred ninth leg. Uran’s weapons are strength and consistency, not audacious do-or-die moves that, against the might of Froome and Team Sky, generally result in death. For his Cannondale-Drapac team that love to see themselves and play the underdog, a mountain stage win and second overall is the stuff dreams are made of.

As for the apparent lack of strength from this British-based outfit compared to years previous…

Hmm, let’s see… They began with four riders in the top 10 on the first stage and despite all that was thrown at them and losing key lieutenant Geraint Thomas midway through, they ended with four in the top 20 on the final stage. They won the teams classification by over seven minutes from Bardet’s AG2R La Mondiale mob and missed out having two guys on the final podium by a solitary second.

Yep, love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re still as formidable as before. As is Froome: "I'm definitely getting older. But at the same time each year, I like to think I'm still learning and developing as a rider and becoming a complete rider."

Despite all four jerseys wrapped up, there is the minor matter of deciding the final stage, otherwise known as the de facto sprinters’ world championship.

More than any other stage at the Tour, there is a near-100 per cent certainty of a big bunch gallop. Of course, that doesn’t stop those looking for their ‘Hey [insert names of Significant Others] I’m on TV!’ moment, because at some point, those aforementioned SO are going to ask you for proof you made it to Paris. (Yes, social media has turned us all into skeptics: if it’s not on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/TV, then it simply didn’t happen. #sigh) And there’s always the ridiculously small chance you not only make the break but the break stays away - then the ridiculously smaller chance you ride away from said break to triumph on the most famous avenue of all, as happened to Eddy Seigneur in 1994.

Marcel Kittel, Mark Cavendish, Arnaud Démare and Peter Sagan have all left the building - but André Greipel, winner the last two years, Alexander Kristoff, Sonny Colbrelli, John Degenkolb, Nacer Bouhanni and Dylan Groenewegen are still present and accounted for, and yet to win a stage. Maillot vert Michael Matthews already has two; with the form and confidence he’s got right now, it wouldn’t be a shock to see him take three.

Once said big bunch gallop has eventuated, if you’re in Paris and don’t have to fly/drive/train home till tomorrow, then the next biggest decision is deciding what to do later this evening. You may have ridden three-and-a-half thousand kilometres but brain (which, by this point, isn’t working too well) is telling body that win, lose or draw, at least some form of alcoholic beverage must be imbibed. Again, photographic evidence will be required because if SO says, ‘If you finished, you must have been invited to the after-party...’, then proof must be shown. If you are not in the company of your team-mates with alcoholic beverage in hand, toasting with the Eiffel Tower in the background, then according to the Law of the SO, you probably didn’t finish the Tour.

Once all the aforementioned has been completed, only then can you return home to your SO.

Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“It'll be time for facts and figures. First of all time to check the number of riders who will enter the world of Giants of the Road. Time to count the seconds or minutes separating the best on the final podium. But the finish on the Champs-Élysées is also a territory for sprinters. The British and the Germans have reigned there without sharing these last few years. Will they finally meet a worthy enough rival?”

Finish line: Avenue des Champs-Élysées, at the end of a 400m finishing straight and after eight laps of a 6.8km circuit. Width: 9m

Weather: 23°C and cloudy at start, 46% precipitation, 44% humidity, wind 19km/h SW; 19°C and cloudy at finish, 49% precipitation, 59% humidity, wind 13km/h WSW.

Who will win Stage 21 of the 2017 TdF?
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