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I've often read / seen on TV that the race is won by the end of the penultimate day. For example, this article in the Guardian describes this year's (2011) eventual winner as the champion elect in an article on the close of the penultimate day. The final day seems to be left to the sprinters.

Why is this? Surely if the top two riders are very close the guy in second place can go for it.

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1 Answer 1

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Tradition, and the layout of the final stage.

Tradition holds that the last stage is a victory parade for the GC contender, and the yellow jersey. Cadel Evans rode a good part of the 2011 final stage, once in Paris, with champagne in hand.

In addition, the layout of the stage, a 95 km flat ride finishing with multiple laps around the Champs Elysees, and culminating in a bunch sprint, rarely allows the opportunity for any major time to be gained. So unless they are within seconds, as in the 1989 Greg Lemond win by 8 seconds over Laurent Fignon, the last stage will rarely play a part in the GC standings.

Champs Elysees Stage Profile

As is stated in the description of the stage on the letour.fr page today:

Every other time, it has been a road stage that has been decided in a bunch sprint, except on four occasions. Those exceptions were the victories taken by Alain Meslet in 1977, Bernard Hinault in 1979, Eddy Seigneur in 1994 and Alexandre Vinokourov in 2005. It is incredibly hard to get a telling gap on this stage when breakaway riders are always within sight of the peloton.”

If you know that a breakaway will not gain you minutes, why risk the ire of the other riders, and your public by messing with the traditions of the race?

One of the things that has always brought an audience back to this race above all others are the traditions of fair play and honorable conduct that are embodied by traditions like the one that allows a crashed race leader to regain his time by the other riders, before the race continues. These unwritten traditions are not rules, but they make this race special.

Combine the two, and you will rarely see a major change on the last day. It can, and does happen. Just not often.

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5  
I think it's worth mentioning that Lemond v Fignon in 1989 was a time trial. –  e100 Jul 25 '11 at 13:28
    
It was, yes. That's why Lemond had the opportunity to make up that much time in a final stage. The article I linked to on from the Lrtour.fr site makes that clear also. –  zenbike Jul 25 '11 at 14:33
1  
In 1947, the first post-WWII Tour, Jean Robic started the final stage in 3rd place on GC, about 3 minutes down on the Italian rider Brambila. The stage was long and flat, from Caen in Normandy to Paris, but the absence of race radios meant that Brambila lost track of Robic. Robic finished about 13 minutes ahead of Brambila. –  R. Chung Apr 17 '12 at 5:46

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