My esteemed colleague Nick Christian argued recently for the abolition of ceremonial final stages in Grand Tours, suggesting they were “glorified criteriums on the streets of Madrid, Milan or Paris”.
Whilst I have the utmost respect for Nick and, bearing in mind he is sat within missile-throwing distance behind me as I write, he is wholly wrong. He is entitled to his opinions, of course. But his opinion is wrong.
And here’s why.
For starters, I give you Mark Cavendish in the rainbow jersey winning on the Champs-Élysées in 2012. Oh, and prior to that, in 2011, and 2010, and 2009.
Cav may be a bit greedy with his final day tally, but ask any sprinter what they would love to win and the Champs-Élysées looms large.
To raise your arms on one of most famous boulevards in the world at the end of the biggest race in the world – it doesn’t get much better than that. Ask the women, who were denied the opportunity this year due to ASO’s misguided “improvements” to La Course.
Then there’s this year’s Vuelta. Imagine ending the race on the (usually) foggy and cold windswept goat track that is the Angliru. The first concern of riders on these mountaintop finishes is getting the hell out of there before they get ill, not hanging around hours on end for podium ceremonies.
And the following day was anything but dull. Alberto Contador got to get to say his goodbyes to an adoring Spanish public in Madrid, Chris Froome (like Cavendish, a tad greedy) secured the points classification to add to his first Vuelta victory, and the sprinters got a rare opportunity in this year’s race to actually strut their stuff.
Without that final stage in Madrid, why would a sprinter bother continuing the race? Might as well head home early and prepare for the Worlds. Or do a Cipollini and head for the beach. Your work is done here. No point in continuing.
Nick points to this year’s Giro as proof for his misguided pudding. Dumoulin overhauled Nairo Quintana on the final day’s time-trial in Monza, overturning a 53 second deficit to leapfrog the leading three on general classification and snatch the maglia rosa at the death.
Cue dewy-eyed reminiscing over what many consider the greatest Tour finish ever: LeMond’s eight-second victory over Fignon in 1989.
Hard to argue against the drama of that day, but would it have made any difference if the TT had been the day before, and the traditional Champs-Élysées circuit had been set up for Sean Kelly to sweep up a stage win to go with his green jersey?
The overall result would have been exactly the same. Or would it? Maybe the usual Parisian ceasefire would have fallen apart, when Fignon had such a tiny margin to claw back? Now, that I’d have paid good money to see.
Plus, let’s face it, watching time-trials, even when there is so much at stake, is dull as ditchwater. Nick maintains that tuning in to watch processional final stages is a waste of time. Maybe so, until the final half hour, but no less drab than seeing one bloke on a bike after another smashing up and down the road.
Turn the volume down, turn the TV off even, do something useful with your Sunday – read the newspaper, mow the lawn, maybe even ride your bike – but don’t sit there bemoaning a lack of action.
If Froome drinking champers and doing cheesy thumbies for the cameras is not your bag, tune out, drop out, get out. Since when was TV watching compulsory?
Grand Tours are, ultimately, showbiz – designed to showcase the host countries to a viewing public who will, it is hoped, be booking their next city break to Paris, Madrid, Milan. Or holidays in the Alps, Apennines, Sierra Nevada.
We need to give the organisers some leeway here. Cycling’s business model is already broken enough, without removing one of their biggest opportunities to celebrate some of the finest cities in Europe.
Think of it as this sport’s equivalent of FA Cup final winners parading around their hometown, or Leicester being crowned Premier League champions, touring the city in an open-top bus. As a Millwall supporter, it’s not something I’m ever likely to experience, but I’d imagine it is a special day that lives long in the memory.
It is as much a part of sport as the event itself. Accept the final day of Grand Tour racing for what it is: entertainment, celebration, showboating.
There’s nothing wrong with that. Is there?