When Felix Levitan,the Tour de France director, was told he could finish the Tour de France in the center of Paris, rather than it’s previous finish locations of the Parc des Princes Velodrome (1903-1967) or the La Cipale Velodrome (1968-1974), he was bullish in his proposals – he wanted what he thought was the most beautful avenue in the world: The Champs-Elysees. Never mind that the great boulevard was only closed for Bastille Day, he wanted the Nation’s premier sporting event to be run on the tree lined cobbles of one of France’s architectural wonders. And he got his wish. And so, 40 years later, the Tour has decided to celebrate Levitan’s achievement (Probably wisely forgetting his disastrous attempts to finance a Tour of America) with a special yellow jersey.
Of course, no one will be able to see that design once they paste the sponsor’s stamp over it, but hey ho…
The Champs has produced some of the more memorable moments of the Tour since it’s introduction to the race, with bothh the overall and the green jersey having been decided on it. Some of the more interesting events on it’s juttery surface have included…
The last day of the race is traditionally almost a procession now, but nobody told Joop Zoetemelk. Trying to overturn his, er, three minute defecit to leader Bernard Hinault, he attacked on the Champs Elysees, but unfortunately for him Hinault was wise to the danger and went with him before promptly dispatching Zoetemelk in the sprint to really dial in his dominance. A seventh stage win of the race and a second yellow jersey were the Badger’s reward.
Well, we weren’t going to leave this out. Greg Lemond, on his new fangled aerodynamic toys whilst Laurent Fignon’s ponytail flapped in the wind, overturned his 50 second deficit in just 24.5km to win by 8 seconds. The stage had started from Versailles to symbolize the 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille – instead of national pride, an American stormed their race and made off with the prize, in a day now widely regarded as being the point where the race became “modern” thanks to Lemond’s toys.
When you’re known as the Tashkent Terror, it’s somewhat implicit that you’re going to do some fairly heart-in-the-mouth things. For Uzbekistan’s Djamolidine Abdoujaparov, this apparently meant the novel method of sprinting in a zig zag fashion all over the road, crucially whilst staring intently at your front wheel. Needless to say, the man who had already won stages one and four of the race found this style would eventually come back to hurt him in a big way when he inexplicably veered into one of the Coca-Cola signs places at intervals along the route as he sprinted, clad in the green jersey, along the Champs Elysees. The crash was, predictably at that speed, fairly awful, but Abdoujaparov still had to cross the line to finish the race and receive his prize. Fifteen minutes after the field had done so, he limped across to take the first of his three green jerseys.Dimitri Konyshev, the actual winner of the stage, became a trivia question for years to come given everyone remembers Abdoujaparov’s crash more than his triumph.
As Jean Patrick Nazon won the stage, no one was paying much attention as Baden Cooke and Robbie McEwen were so close to one another in the green jersey that whichever one crossed the line first would win it. As the riders clashed (actually after the line) the photographers got their shot, but Cooke had pipped McEwen to the place, and so won the jersey by a scant 2 points, having been 2 points behind the previous day.
On a rare occasion that a sprinter didn’t win (see below), the controversy this time around when the race actually finished.On a grey, damp day in Paris, the shiny cobbles were deemed as worryingly slippery, plus there were already security concerns stemming from the earlier Terror attacks in London earlier in the month. T-Mobile’s Alexander Vinokourov and Gerolsteiner’s Levi Leipheimer were seperated by just two seconds in the American’s favour, and the wet, slick cobbles meant the race organisation said that GC times would be taken when the riders crossed the Champs Elysees the first time. Vinokourov then went for the intermediate sprint time bonus, winning it only for the organisers to state he wouldn’t count, but that the finish line bonus was still avaliable. Vinokourov promptly won that and hauled himself up into 5th, above Leipheimer.
Only six times has the stage not come down to a sprint – one, obviously, was 1989, when the final stage was a time trial, won by Greg Lemond, but the other five occasions when a breakaway won were 1977 (Meslet), 1979 (Hinault), 1987 (Pierce), 1994 (Seigneur) and 2005 (Vinokourov). In essence, they usually happen every 10 years, so perhaps we’re due another one soon…
Fourteen different countries have won on the Champs-Elysees, with Belgium the most winning nation with nine wins.
Belgium – 9 (Last 2008)
Netherlands – 3 (Last 1988)
France – 5 (Last 2003)
Switzerland – 1 (Last 1983)
Italy – 5 (Last 2007)
USA – 2 (Last 1989)
USSR – 1 (Last 1991)
Germany – 3 (Last 2014)
Uzbekistan – 2 (Last 1995)
Australia – 2 (Last 2002)
Czech Republic – 1 (Last 2001)
Kazakhstan – 1 (Last 2005)
Norway – 1 (Last 2006)
Great Britain – 4 (Last 2012)
Multiple winners on the Champs-Elysees are rare, although in an age where sprinters are increasingly dominant, that may change. From 40 finishes on the avenue, five men have won multiple times to have taken 12 of those 40 finishes between them. They are:
Mark Cavendish – 4 wins (2009-2012)
Marcel Kittel – 2 wins (2013-14)
Robbie McEwen – 2 wins (1999, 2002)
Djamolidine Abdoujaparov – 2 wins (1993, 1995)
Bernard Hinault – 2 wins (1979, 1982)
Perhaps an interesting thing to note is that despite the sprint on the Champs-Elysees being feted as the unofficial “Sprinters World Championships”, the green jersey of the Tour has rarely won on the street. Mark Cavendish (2011), Robbie McEwen (2002), Djamolidine Abdoujaparov (1993) and Bernard Hinault (1979) are the only ones I can see,and Hinault won the Tour that year, so he wasn’t actually in Green when he won. Similarly, winning as in the rainbow jersey is a rare feat, and has only been achieved by Mark Cavendish (2012) as far as I’m aware.This makes Cavendish the undisputable King of the Champs Elysees – he not only has the record for number of wins and consecutive wins, but having won in Green and in the Rainbow jersey he has pretty much covered every base.
Winners on the Champs Elysees
Unfortunately, I can’t find pictures of every victory, so I’ve left those blank for the time being.
Gerrie Knetemann (NED) – TI Raleigh
Rudy Matthijs (BEL) – Hitachi Splendor
Guido Bontempi (ITA) – Carrera Inoxpran
Olaf Ludwig (GER) – Panasonic – Sportslife
Fabio Baldato (ITA) – MG Maglificio – Technogym