Spain’s Oscar Freire has perhaps more reason than most to hope for a top finish on the final stage of the Tour de France this Sunday.
However, the Rabobank rider will not be the only sprinter eyeing a prestigious win on the finish line of the Champs Elysees. The final stage of this year’s race begins in Etampes to the south-west of Paris, and makes its way over the undulating roads of the Chevreuse valley before heading into the capital.
The peloton will complete a total of eight laps of an inner city circuit, going past some of the capital’s world famous landmarks. Attacks are imminent, but a bunch sprint is a near certainty.
Australia’s Robbie McEwen is winless so far on the Tour this year, although the Silence-Lotto rider is not brimming with confidence.
“It would be great to do something on the Champs Elysees, but we’ll have to see how the legs are, it’s been a tough Tour,” McEwen said after completing the race’s penultimate stage, a 53km time trial, on Saturday.
McEwen, Columbia’s German sprinter Gerald Ciolek and Belgian Gert Steegmans of the QuickStep team should all be in the mix along with the likes of Norway’s Thor Hushovd and German veteran Erik Zabel.
However the man with perhaps most to win on the Champs is Freire, who hopes to make history by winning the points competition’s green jersey. Never in the history of the green jersey competiton, which was launched in 1953, has a Spaniard, or indeed a Rabobank rider, won the green jersey.
Freire, a former three-time world champion, tightened his grip on the sprinters’ coveted prize on Friday, when he nevertheless conceded some ground to Milram sprinter Zabel, a former six-time winner.
He now has a lead of 42 points on Zabel (202), with Hushovd third on 198, ahead of the final stage to Paris on Sunday where points can be won at intermediate sprints with the most available at the finish line.
Freire’s sprint win on the 14th stage helped him reinforce his lead, but his consistency throughout has been key to his success so far. As one of the few sprinters to emerge from Spain, where the stage racer is king, Freire admits he is at pains to make his followers understand.
“People don’t understand how difficult it is to win the green jersey, you have to work for it every day,” he said. “If you don’t win (a stage), you have to go for the points at the intermediate sprints, and you lose a lot of power that way. It’s a really tough competition.”
On Sunday, Freire will be hoping a breakaway eats up the two intermediate sprints on the race before he has to up the tempo to hold off Zabel and Hushovd at the Champs Elysees finish line.
“Mathematically, I’ve just about got the jersey,” said Freire after Friday’s stage. “Now I just have to keep a close eye on Zabel and Hushovd.”
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008