The Tour de France concludes with the famous finish on the Champs-Élysées. Stage 21 takes place on Sunday 18th July. The sprinters have fought through the Alps and the Pyrenees for a chance to win here.
Sam Bennett, Caleb Ewan and Alexander Kristoff are the three most recent riders who have written their names into cycling folklore with a victory in Paris. None of those three are present this year, though, so there is a chance we'll witness a new winner on Champs-Élysées.
The stage 20 time trial was won by Wout van Aert. Victory in Saint-Émilion means that Van Aert has won a sprint stage, mountain stage and time-trial at the Tour de France since his race debut in 2019. His teammate Jonas Vingegaard capped off his fine Tour debut with third place, whilst Kasper Asgreen was second. Tadej Pogačar secured back-to-back yellow jerseys with eighth place on the stage.
Stage 21 profile
The stage begins in Chatou, located in Eastern Paris. There is one final KOM point on offer just a couple of kilometres into the stage, but Tadej Pogačar has already sewn up a second consecutive victory in the polka-dot jersey competition.
The riders reach the finish line for the first time 53.9km in. This is where the peloton can become accustomed to the picturesque Champs-Élysées and, after Pogačar enjoys his victory with his teammates earlier in the stage, the racing can truly commence. Some of the baroudeurs may form a breakaway, but this in hope rather than expectation.
In total, there will be eight laps of the Champs-Élysées circuit. Bar a series of exceptional mishaps, any attacks will be caught and the sprint teams will lead the sprinters to the line. With 2km remaining, the riders will turn left and sweep into the tunnel, which is exited a few hundred metres later.
Next, the peloton will approach the prominent left-right chicane. When this is passed, there will be around 700 metres left to the finish. Positioning heading out of this corner is crucial, as it would take a monumental effort to make up for lost ground and have enough left in the tank to defeat the better placed sprinters.
Mark Cavendish winning his first Champs-Élysées sprint in 2009 (Image credit: Lars Ronbog/FrontzoneSport via Getty Images)
Mark Cavendish is a four-time winner on Champs-Élysées. The Manx Missile won every finish in Paris between 2009 and 2012, which makes it nine years since his previous victory here. This year, he starts as the heavy favourite. He possesses by far the best leadout train with Michael Mørkøv and Davide Ballerini, who will be pivotal in positioning Cavendish in the final metres. Can anyone stop Cavendish from winning his fifth sprint on Champs-Élysées?
There is more at stake for Cavendish, though. After winning in Carcassonne last week, the Brit equalled Eddy Merkcx' all time stage record at the Tour de France. Cavendish has declined any opportunity to discuss the record to this point. However, both riders have 34 stages to their name, and victory for Cav here would create history. Can Cav cap off one of the most phenomenal comebacks in recent pro cycling history with a record-breaking scene, wearing the green jersey, in the most acclaimed sprint in the sport?
If anyone can prevent Cav, perhaps Wout van Aert is the man. The Belgian road champion won two sprint stages last year at the Tour, but hasn’t managed to repeat that feat this season. Instead, he found his best chance of victory in the mountains and, more recently, on the time trial bike. Van Aert doesn’t possess any kind of leadout train, let alone the support that Cavendish has become accustomed to with Deceuninck-Quick Step. This makes things more challenging for Van Aert, but if he can position himself on Cavendish's wheel, he has a great shot.
Jasper Philipsen is now Alpecin-Fenix’s only option. The team started the Tour with Tim Merlier and Mathieu van der Poel in their ranks, and they decimated the field on stage 3 which was already heavily reduced by a series of crashes. Philipsen was Merlier’s leadout man that day, but he’ll be given his chance here. Philipsen was a stage winner at La Vuelta España last season, but hasn’t been able to defeat Cavendish at the Tour de France. Yet. This is his final chance.
Cees Bol is one of the sprinters that has survived the mountains. However, the best finish he has managed to this point is sixth place. The Dutchman had a promising Tour de France last year, managing second place in Privas on stage 5. Although Bol hasn't been able to reproduce that form yet, he’s a big, powerful sprinter whose attributes could suit the finish on Champs-Élysées.
Bar Mark Cavendish, the only other former winner on Champs-Élysées that is present is André Greipel. The veteran, who celebrated his 39th birthday just a few days ago, won in Paris in 2015 and 2016. The German has been in the top five six times on Champs-Élysées too. Can Greipel roll back the years and win one of the finishes that he has mastered in the past?
Prior to stage 20, Greipel announced that this would be his final Tour de France as he is retiring at the end of the season. He couldn't win the final Tour stage of his career, could he?
Michael Matthews has emerged as Mark Cavendish’s only challenger for the green jersey. However, Cavendish holds a clear lead and it would take an exceptional performance from Matthews, and some luck, to prevent Cavendish from winning the second green jersey of his career.
Other riders that have a slim chance in a sprint include Mads Pedersen, Christophe Laporte and Danny van Poppel.
The scene is set for one of the most historic wins in Tour de France history. We are backing Mark Cavendish to win stage 21 of the Tour de France. The Manx Missile would win his fifth stage of the 2021 Tour, and beat Eddy Merckx' long-standing stage record.
Cover image: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP via Getty Images