The battle for the Tour de France’s green jersey will dominate the 20th and final stage of the race on Sunday. And that could spell a duel between Belgian star Tom Boonen and South African Robert Hunter as the 146km race makes its way from Marcoussis to the world famous Champs Elysees.
For the yellow jersey contenders the final stage is usually the time to celebrate an end of three tough weeks of battles in the mountains and the race’s two time trials. But for the green jersey, and the final stage honours on France’s most famous boulevard, there’s everything to play for.
Quick Step one-day specialist and former world champion Boonen goes into the final stage with a 24-point lead on Hunter, who won his first stage on the race last week.
In third place, at 28 points adrift is Germany’s former six-time winner Erik Zabel, although the Milram team’s veteran sprinter has for the past few years failed to win any stages on the race.
In the absence of Australian Robbie McEwen, the three-time winner of the sprinters’ coveted prize who finished outside the time limit on the eighth stage to Tignes, Boonen will be looking to reinforce his grip.
There are two intermediate sprints on the stage, where six, four and two points can be won by the first three over the line. Boonen will likely send some of his ‘domestiques’ up the road to make sure Hunter does not gain any of those points.
But it is at the finish line, where maximum points are normally obtained on the flatter stages, that Hunter will be looking to put the most pressure on his Belgian rival. Hunter admitted a few days ago though that beating Boonen, who has since been dominating him at the finish line behind the stage winners in recent days, would not be easy.
“It will come down to the last day in Paris, or fighting it out for second place with Zabel, and Tom keeping his jersey,” said Hunter. “I’m not too far behind, but if Tom keeps (being) fast it’s going to be difficult to go faster.”
Stage wins on the Champs Elysees meanwhile almost always end in a bunch sprint. On only seven occasions, since 1975 when the race first ended on the Champs, has a late attack gone on to succeed.
Disgraced Kazakh rider Alexandre Vinokourov was the last to achieve the feat, in 2005. This year however the Astana team leader will not be contending having been ejected from the race after a positive test for blood doping.
Norwegian Thor Hushovd claimed victory on the final stage last year, and despite suffering injury woes and slight illness after his victory on the fourth stage the big Credit Agricole sprinter cannot be ruled out.
© AFP 2007