The last stage of the Tour de France is always several things. A parade; a race; a confirmation; a coronation. All the competitions, all the major standings, save that of the final stage were decided before the day began—the time and points gaps between the top placings were wide enough that only a serious crash or injury could move the standings. And with the stage, a mere 120km (75mi) from Rambouillet to the traditional circuit race finish in Paris on le Avenue des Champs-Élysées, presenting no real difficulties in terms of terrain, no one was anxious for the racing to begin.
After race leader Bradley Wiggins' Sky teammates lead the peloton onto the finishing circuit, Americans George Hincapie and Chris Horner came to the front to lead the pack onto the Champs- Élysées. Hincapie, completing his seventeenth Tour, a record, was given this honor by the field.
After this last ceremony, the racing began. The oldest man in the race, German Jens Voigt of team RadioShack attacked and drew out a group. Ten riders joined him and they worked hard to eke out a 30-second lead. Team Sky, as both the squad of the Yellow Jersey and that of the best sprinter in the race, Mark Cavendish, needed help to bring this move back. Lotto-Belisol, of sprinter André Greipel shared the load, as did Peter Sagan's Liquigas-Cannondale team. It was hard work.
With 2.5km (1.5mi) remaining, the break was finally brought back, and it was time for the sprinter's teams to engage in their high-speed game to position for the final sprint. Sagan's teammate Daniel Oss brought Sagan into position on the right as Orica-Greenedge positioned Matt Goss on the left and in the middle Wiggins ramped up the pace for Edvald Boasson Hagen to lead out Cavendish. Around the final turn, still a long way out, Cav' leaped. Sagan, caught slightly out of position by having to go around a fading Boasson Hagen seemed out of contention and Goss was close on Cav's wheel. Sagan, the Green Monster thanks to his Green Jersey and matching green Cannondale, finally unleashed his sprint and closed several bike lengths as the finish line approached, enough to pass everyone but Cav' by the line.
The Tour complete, Wiggins became the first Briton to win the Tour, as Nibali finished a strong third place overall, his first podium at the Tour to go along with his second and third at the Giro, and victory at the Vuelta confirming him as a top Grand Tour rider, and a future Tour winner. As the Tour was his stated goal for the season, third place can be both a success and a disappointment. Nibali prefers to see the water bottle half full. "Stepping on the podium was special. I didn't look at it from below, so I didn't ruin the occasion. Having Bradley there beside me expressing his thanks to the fans was really important. It's real emotional, with so many fans there around the podium…I didn't think about what this really means while on the podium, but it started to sink in afterwards, as I walk around here with so many people at this special scene. Paris is a long way from the Straits of Messina. I want to thank all my fans and supporters, and especially my team, teammates and my family."
Sagan, who has won his first Green Jersey at the tender age of 22 in his debut Tour, also has a sparkling future ahead of him. And the future is where Sagan is looking. Interviewed before the podium ceremony, he reported, "I’m very happy for this Tour de France. Three victories and green jersey. I want to finish this season good. I want to do well at the Olympic games and World Championships, next year for the classics."
Third place overall and victory in the points competition are great results for the 2012 Tour, but the season is hardly over. As Sagan rightly noted, look for Liquigas-Cannondale riders representing their home countries and the Olympics and then reuniting to take on the rest of the 2012 racing season.
Stage 20 Results—Rambouillet to Paris 120km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 3:08:07
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale same time
3. Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge same time
4. Juan José Haedo (Arg) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff same time
5. Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM same time
Stage 20 Liquigas-Cannondale
33. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) 0:00:09
50. Dominik Nerz (Ger) same time
103. Ivan Basso (Ita) same time
106. Kristijan Koren (Slo) 0:00:25
110. Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) same time
112. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) same time
114. Daniel Oss (Ita) 0:00:29
119. Federico Canuti (Ita) 0:00:38
Final Overall Standings
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 87:34:42
2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:03:21
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:06:19
4. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:10:15
5. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:11:04
Final Overall Liquigas-Cannondale
25. Ivan Basso (Ita) 0:59:44
42. Peter Sagan (Svk) 1:38:37
47. Dominik Nerz (Ger) 1:42:12
71. Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) 2:16:15
98. Kristijan Koren (Slo) 2:51:34
105. Daniel Oss (Ita) 2:55:24
114. Federico Canuti (Ita) 2:58:41
118. Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) 3:04:39
Final Points Standings
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale 421pts
2. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 280
3. Matthew Harley Goss (Aus) Orica GreenEdge 268
4. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky Procycling 220
5. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling --