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Tour de France 2008

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By Chris Whyatt

1720: Don't get upset yourselves now - the Olympics are only a few weeks away. What more can you say about the 2008 Tour de France? It's not been an explosive closing weekend but, boy, it was close. Thanks very much for all your contributions this past month - it's nowt without your musings - and see you all soon. Viva espana!

1714: The elegantly understated trophy - you could eat your daily cereal out of that - is presented to Sastre as Evans looks on with dignity. There are no riotous celebrations from the Spaniard but I think I can see some emotion in his eyes.

1709: Cadel Evans ran him close but Carlos Sastre - 10th, ninth, eight, fourth and third on previous Tours - pulls on the yellow jersey as he is crowned the 2008 Tour de France winner. One of the best moment of the Spaniards life, surely, even if he does appear hugely modest.

Second-placed Evans stands, smiling, to Sastre's right and hoists aloft his cuddly kangeroo toy while Kohl is to Carlos' left as a break-neck version of the Spanish national anthem rings out around the Champs Elysees.

1705: Andy Schleck is quick to follow as he pulls on the white jersey to show that he was officially the best young rider on the 2008 Tour before enthusiastically kissing the glamorous promotion girls which beam at him from either side.

1703: Chubby-faced Austrian Bernard Kohl does the same, collecting the polka dot jersey which signifies his status as King of the Mountains.

1702: With the Arc de Triomphe forming a dramatic backdrop, Oscar Friere strides to the podium to collect the green jersey he has won.

1659: Proud as punch parents Teresa and Victor Sastre are being interviewed right now. There is a cycling school round the corner from the family home in Madrid, apparently.

"When he was young he sacrificed a lot and now all that hard work has paid off," says Victor. "There's going to be a big party when he gets a break in his schedule."

1655: "Con-sastre-lations!" says MagpieMatt on 606, adding:

"We have had the Tour and Wimbledon for the last 5 weeks to keep me going through work. What am I going to do tomorrow?!"

1652: So well done to Quickstep rider Steegmans, who clinches his second Tour stage win. The speeds they hit on the approach to the finish are phenomenal but timing, rather than sheer power, is surely the key. Millar faded fast and didn't finish in the top ten.

"It's unbelieveable, a dream," says Steegmans. "You have to wait for the race to come to you. We went really hard at the end. The power came to me with 100m to go."

1648: Carlos Sastre wins the 2008 Tour de France.

But what about the overall winner? Carlos Sastre, home safe and sound, celebrates winning the 2008 Tour de France with his family as pushy photographers try and get the best snaps.

1645: Here's David Millar heading a bunch of Garmin riders... but Gert Steegmans accelerates hard and, holding off a late charge from Gerald Ciolek and Oscar Freire, wins stage 21 of the 2008 Tour de France.

1641: Sylvian Chavanel breaks off the front... it's crucial they take this corner round the Rue de Rivoli smoothly... Jens Voight has lost his saddle... ouch!!!

1639: Arnaud Gerard attacks, gaining a five seconds advantage, but is soon reeled in... others are trying to clip off. 4km to go now and real aggression fills the air.

1637: The bells ring and there's just 6.5km to go.... bet Mark Cavendish wishes he was in the mixer right now.

1635: Lean just isn't the word to describe these athletes: there is not literally a gram of fat on any of them, it becomes very evident, as the sun bursts cleanly through the clouds and reflects off their rigid arms. Bet they can't wait to have a massive hamburger tonight.

Botcharov has broken clear now... CSC riders part as Oscar Frieire moves from the middle towards the front of the peloton.

1630: It's a skill on its own to 'get position' for a bunch sprint and that is what the riders are working for right now. Robbie McEwen has been there before?

1625: Barredo and Vogondy were caught at the 117km mark and British-registered Kenyan Chris Froome leads now. Menacing-looking helicopters circle overhead. French flags flap in the breeze. The pace is high. This is the calm before the storm. 17km to go...

1622: Hammering over the Champs Elysees cobbles must hurt a little. This may well come down to a bunch sprint where world champion Fabian Cancellara would be a strong contender. Stage 20 winner Stefan Schumacher is once again on the attack.

1618: CSC's Gustov has broke from the peloton and is on his own in third.... no sign of David Millar as yet.

1614: However - now leading - Frenchman Nicholas Vogondy and Spaniard Carlos Barredo are working together at the front, about 12 seconds ahead of the peloton.

1608: The peloton resembles a shoal of tiny fish fearful of attack from a cavern-jawed predator. They cannot really be separated at this point though the speed is impressively high. Tremendous crowds, about eight or nine deep, look on reverentially.

1603: Nobody threatening the overall classification as the riders pass the Arc de Triomphe... points at the first intermediate sprint (99km) were won by Gutierrez, Florencio, and filing through in third Rabobank's Joost Posthuma.

Fedrigo (BTL), Sanchez (GCE), Schroder (MRM) launched an attack but were reeled back in by the peloton.

"I think it should be given that no one tries to attack the yellow jersey on the final stage, no matter what the gap is. You've had 3500km to try to win the tour, and if you couldn't do it, you should accept that you haven't won it." MagpieMatt on 606

1558: Two Spaniards - Jose Ivan Gutierrez and Xavier Florencio - have now launched break at the front with 42km to go. The peloton is being controlled by, surprise surprise, CSC.

"I know it's generally accepted you don't attack the yellow jersey. However on one of Armstrong's later tour wins, Jan Ullrich pulled back about 30s just by vitue of being at the front of a split peleton while Lance was at the back. It wasn't enough to win but it cut Lance's winning margin to less than a minute.

"If the margin going into the final stage was much less you could win by default without overtly attacking the yellow jersey. How would peleton ettiquette react to this scenario?" spotted jock on 606

1550: Frenchman Stephane Auge (Cofidis) is the first to have a go and has pulled clear at the front... 46km to go....

1546: And we're off... the racing action for today has started as the riders hurtle free like claustrophobic bats out of a dungeon-deep cave at the beginning of the Champs Elysees.

1544: Raucous cheers greet the riders as they shuttle into the grandeur of Paris alongside the River Seine. The city pretty much shuts down today to celebrate the peleton's arrival. France is truly cycling mad.

"Early tours? Stages around 15 hours long - no wonder they needed alternate rest days. Many participants weren't in teams, and had to arrange their own accommodation. Unmetalled roads and only two gears. Riders had to repair their own punctures.

"No repairs whatever to bicycles allowed until 1923, and even then the rider had to make the repair unaided - one year the leader was disqualified for stopping to repair broken forks at a smithy because he allowed the blacksmith to operate the bellows for him. Frequent sabotage by supporters of other cyclists." Houseworker on 606

1540: The outstanding monumental architecture of Paris is in view and legs are pumping with a bit more vigour. Murky skies in which which yellow battles with grey hang overhead, while a massive European Union symbol is splashed over the Eiffel Tower.

1536: Frenzied debate on 606 - and here in at BBC HQ - over the final stage etiquette/ tradition involved in NOT making an attack on the yellow jersey wearer. We know it's a given that, if there is a decent lead (and Sastre's 65 seconds falls well within that category), then it is simply not the done thing.

So, fairly quickly and just before the sprint laps start on Europe's most expensive chunk of real estate, can we agree upon a time gap where an attack WOULD be permissible?

1521: The peloton, looking like an over-populated formation of the Red Arrows from a camera angle above them, is a kaleidoscope of bright colours as it picks up speed on the approach to Paris. Where it passes through residential areas of the arrondissements south of the French capital, the streets are lined with grinning well-wishers. No sign of any of the crazed lunatics which pepper the mountains. Yet.

1510: Sprinters Thor Hushovd, Robbie Hunter, Robbie McEwen, Oscar Freire, and Erik Zabel are perhaps the most likely to be the riders fighting it out on the Champs Elysees. Each has have previously won a bunch sprint at the Tour de France.

1506: "Oo, I just found out that my mum lives round the corner from Britain's first Tour stage winner, Brian Robinson. 77 and still regularly out on his bike." Rob, in Edinburgh, on the 81111 texts

1503: The cote de Chateaufort has, of course, been passed now and the points at the top of the last climb in the 2008 Tour were won by Freddy Bichot (three points), Sebastian Lang (two points) and Marco Marzano (one point).

"1906?? Bad shorts with terrifying seams, cigarettes while you ride chased down with a coup de vin, grit and determination. Oh, and no étrangers..." Piquet on 606

1455: Just over 83km left now until the finishing line as the riders stream through a quaint French village called Vauhallan...

"1903 was certainly a long time ago! Perhaps the biggest difference to the race was not the technology, the media or the doping, but the style of the race. Today the culture and ettiquettes of the race are so developed that the race becomes vaguely predictable, for example riders adhere to a code of behaviour in the pelaton as a unit regardless of team, and nobody expects Cadel Evans to attack on the final stage.

"Before all these details were established, and the heirachy of domestiques and leaders established, might the race have been more of a test of raw grit and determination?" Davey P88 on 606

1449: As the peloton breezes by, a man on a bike dressed as a professional Tour rider is making his way across a tightrope about 100 feet high in the air. On a bike, I repeat. Just for the hell of it.

It's been a decent year in terms of riders finishing the entire race. 180 started it, and 145 are set to complete it. That's 80.5%, the fifth best ever percentage.

1438: It's been a superb Tour for Austria's Bernard Kohl and he, leading a festival-like peleton, takes the three points on the the penultimate climb. Just behind him, Gert Steegmans (QST) grabbed two points and Bernhard Eisel (COL) one.

1432: "Chris, you asked about what the Tour was like in the early days. A friend of mine has some lovely black & white prints on his wall of the Tour from - not sure exactly - I guess pre-war. One shows a group as they're cycling, grimy faces, looking weary as they pass a fag amongst each other. They all have two or three spare tyres over their shoulders.

"Another shows a couple of riders who've stopped in a small town, sitting on some steps smiling and raising their pints of beer to the camera!" kebish on 606

1424: Giving their weary limbs a well-earned break from brutal intensity, the peloton (still riding as one group) is nearing the base of the first category-four ascent. To give you a true picture of how easy they are taking things, I should tell you the first hour of this 21st stage was ridden at an average speed of just 27.5km/h.

1414: Plenty of chat on 606 about that Simioni and Armstrong incident, with further details being requested. Here's MagpieMatt with his say:

"Lance told Simeoni to go back to the peloton because Simeoni was sueing Lance for slander in Italy I think? So Lance rode up to them and told Simeoni to go back or US Postal would chase them down."

But where are the vivid depictions of the 1903 Tour de France that I requested?!!! Still a procession as the riders make their way north to Paris, by the way. Plenty of riders sliding in beside Sastre to congratulate him on the yellow jersey. Definite party atmosphere.

1352: "Simeoni attacked in 2004 before it hit Paris, although there was extenuating circumstances behind that one. Who knows, has Evans ever said he likes Sastre? He could do what Simeoni did to Armstrong to try to ruin his day." Generic Fanboy on 606

1350: "Is it an unwritten code of conduct that you can't attack the yellow jersey on the last day? If I was a minute behind in the biggest and most prestigious cycling race in the world, on the last day surely you should give it a go. Any ideas?"
David, in Chipping Norton, on the 81111 texts

1338: Meanwhile, back in modern-day France, this final stage has two category-four climbs and two intermediate sprints.

Points for the climbers category can be earned at the cote de Saint-Remy-les-Chevreuse (48km) and the cote de Chateaufort (51.5km). Sprint points are awarded on the 'Haut des Champs', during laps two and five of the finishing circuit.

1334: I know how old the Tour de France is - but I still can't believe how old the Tour de France is. A full 27 years older than the first ever football World Cup, it started way back in 1903. Some of my jokes are younger than that.

Zero mobile communication, fledgling motor vehicles, basic medical care, performance enhancing... erm... pep talks. C'mon. Can anyone on 606 or the 81111 texts paint a picture of what the Tour must've been like just three years into the 20th century?

1322: Quick reminder on who holds which jersey (aside from Sastre in the maillot jaune) as we chunter into Paris.

Polka dot? Gerolsteiner's Austrian rider Bernhard Kohl has collected an impressive 125 points and simply needs to arrive in Paris to win the climbers' category.

Green? Rabobank's Spanish rider Oscar Freire has delivered time and again this Tour to after finish in the top 10 of eight stages and register 244 points. There is the tiniest chance that second-placed Milram rider Erik Zabel could still claim the shirt, but we are talking splitting the atom.

White? CSC's Andy Schleck is 77 seconds ahead of Liquigas' Czech rider Roman Kreuziger so should be recognised as the best young rider in the 95th TdF come the finish today.

1311: "Maybe Cadel should finally try and attack, somehow can't see that happening. Any chance of Kohl picking up 5 seconds and finishing 2nd? I personally think that he deserves it more than Evans.

"This is what the sprinters have been waiting for - they hung on in the mountains for their chance to shine in Paris. With Cavendish out of the equation, I'm really hoping for a Robbie McEwen stage win." EnglandLad23 on 606

1302: All riders are still in the neutral zone on stage 21 and it should be a fairly leisurely cruise until they arrive in Paris - but a expect an exciting sprint battle on the Champs Elysees. Hang on... Tour director Christian Prudhomme has just waved the white flag to signal the start of racing. Merely a gesture methinks.

1254: CSC's young Luxembourg star Andy Schleck has just been chatting before they set off: "We all could have been a leader in any other teams," he said. "We simply had the best nine riders out there."

And here's Im_partial - TDF tops on 606:

"It's great to see so many young riders (Roman Kreuziger in addition to Andy Schleck?) emerge on GC, as well as young climbers (Augustyn, Froome) and sprinters (Cavendish). At the same time, the old and well-loved guard (Jens Voigt, Erik Zabel, Robbie McEwen) are still around to provide a welcome link to the better past.

"This Tour (for me) was one of the better in recent memory. I am still amazed that we didn't set the podium until after yesterday's stage."

1245: The sun has got its hat on and we're under way as riders depart from the start in Etampes, home to French monarchs as far back as the 10th century. Sastre, resplendent in yellow, is emitting a regal air after managing to concede just 29 seconds to Aussie Cadel Evans in the "race of truth" time trial yesterday.

Team CSC look a picture of health as they cruise along with their arms on each other's shoulders. Aside from giving Sastre a leg-up to victory, I guess that's because they're less than 143km from completing the Tour's gruelling 3,559km total distance.

1238: Given all that jazz, today is surely the perfect time for us to debate just where the Tour de France as a sporting entity stands at this point in time given the flood of controversy from which it has been unable to escape in recent years.

Care to reflect on is the continued emergence of more talented young riders - Mark Cavendish and Andy Schleck to name two - on this year's Tour? Do you sense renewed hope that the doping tide may be (relatively) turning?

As as Scouser with fiery eyes once said to me when presenting an open bag of crisps - get involved.

1225: Hello people. Fancy a lazy canter down Paris' Avenue des Champs-Élysées?

That's what yellow jersey-wearing Carlos Sastre will have been dreaming of last night and, barring a hugely unlikely mishap, that's what will happen this afternoon as the 2008 Tour de France draws to a close in Paris.

The largely symbolic stage 21 from Etampes to the French capital may see some frenzied sprint attacks as a herd of proud cyclists try to put their name in lights - but nothing should jeopardise the Spaniard's position on top of the podium such are the last day customs of the world's greatest race.

see also
Sastre set to win Tour de France
26 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Sastre hails Team CSC team-mates
26 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Sastre takes over as Tour leader
23 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Cavendish out of Tour de France
20 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Tour de France 2008 preview
02 Jul 08 |  Cycling
Cycling on the BBC
11 Jul 08 |  Cycling

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