What do we count as the biggest sporting day in Australia? Is it the AFL grand final? Maybe the NRL grand final? What about Melbourne Cup?
Since 1975, the final stage of the Tour de France has been held on the Champs Élysées. As the climax to a three-week orgy of cycling, it’s a location that can’t be topped.
The riders cruise into Paris before embarking on eight laps around the heartbeat of the so-called “city of love.”
Even if you watch the Tour every year, this final stage is compelling viewing as the peloton speeds across the Place de la Concorde, up and down the Champs and along the Rue de Rivoli. Sure, it’s nothing more than an exhibition, but an hour or so feasting on pictures of central Paris is good for the soul.
This was my first experience of reporting on the Tour from France. I have previously covered three editions of this great race from Australia, the first one a decade ago. But as more Aussie riders headed over, achieving greater success each year, chasing them via the phone became more and more problematical.
So it was fantastic to get the opportunity to travel to France (and England) and I felt I had a fair idea of what was in store. I approached the final day with a mixture of excitement and sadness.
As the riders came across the Concorde and swept onto the Champs, I was expecting to feel quite emotional. After all, working at the Tour was a long-held ambition, and this was the quintessential visual stage. The one even non-cycling fans tune into to check out the sights.
For some reason though, that emotion wasn’t there.
It was cool and a good vibe, but that’s what I felt at all the other stages.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been to Paris a number of times before, just not at Tour time.
But that wasn’t the reason, because today when I walked up the Champs, I loved every second of it.
No, the reason it didn’t feel amazing was because the first 90 kilometres of yesterday’s stage was boring. B.O.R.I.N.G.
It may well now be a tradition that the final stage is all about honouring the yellow jersey, but that happens at the end of the race anyway with the podium ceremony, anthem and speech.
For me, the final stage would be much better if it reverted to a proper race. Since he took over from long time Race Director Jean-Marie le Blanc, in 2007, Christian Prudhomme has introduced a number of changes to help keep the race vibrant.
Never before visited climbs. Shorter, more explosive mountain stages. Less of the predictable transition stages, to name but three.
He has even tweaked the final day by taking the riders around the Arc de Triomphe and not just past the front of it.
What would be worth considering though is doing something more to change the last stage.
Keep the finish in central Paris, but do something different other than a 90-kilometre parade that precedes 55 kilometres of faux racing.
The 1989 time trial provided a gripping climax, and the discipline would be an obvious alternative, but so would a more traditional stage featuring more varied terrain. Paris isn’t entirely flat so this wouldn’t be hard.
If you think the bunch sprint finish is the best way to end le Tour each year, the most obvious thing would be to shorten the stage to 75 kilometres. Then at least the winners parade doesn’t go for too long.
Or, we could just forget this notion of honouring the winner during the stage. Just set it up as a normal race. No photo ops with glasses of champagne.
Christian Prudhomme could also bring in time bonuses. Even if there are none in the other stages, introducing them for the final day will really add spice to the mix if there’s a handful of seconds separating riders at the top of the general classification.
When you see the logistics that go into designing the route for the Tour de France, you realise how clever the people at the Amaury Sports Organisation are. That’s why I’m sure they can think of some other ways to tweak the final day, and eliminate some of Sunday’s tedium.
You could say, “if it ain’t broke” and maybe that applies to the final stage of the Tour de France. When you consider though the saturated TV sports market and dwindling sponsorship money, is this something Christian Prudhomme should be thinking about?