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Manx Missile takes final stage for second year running to confirm return to form

Mark Cavendish of HTC-Columbia flew past Lampre-Farnese Vini's Alessandro Petacchi to win on the Champs-Elysees for the second year in a row on Stage 20 of the Tour de France, his fifth stage win in this year's race and 15th of his career, but it's the Italian who clinched the points classification. Alberto Contador of Astana got through today's final stage without mishap to win his third overall title in four years.

If there’s one stage of the Tour de France each year that pretty much follows the script, it’s this one, from the maillot jaune sipping Champagne while in the saddle to eight fast and furious laps of the Champs-Elysées ahead of, more often than not a hard-fought closing lap as the sprinters fight it out for what is often considered to be their unofficial world championship.

One of the other staples of the final day, of course, is the the photo opportunity of the four jersey winners at the start of the stage, with Alberto Contador in the overall leader’s yellow, Andy Schleck in the young rider’s white and Anthony Charteau wearing the king of the mountains polka dots all assured of remaining top of their respective classifications.

However, there was unfinished business for the fourth member of that quartet, Alessandro Petacchi of Lampre-Farnese Vini, who needed to see off potential challenges from Mark Cavendish and last year’s winner, Thor Hushovd, to guarantee victory in the points classification and clinch the green jersey.

Another departure from the standard last-stage format was that on the day that seven-times winner Lance Armstrong bade his second – and this time, final – farewell to the race he once dominated, there was an element of farce at the start of the 102.5km stage in Longjumeau when Team RadioShack turned up wearing some striking black Livestrong jerseys emblazoned with the number 28 on the back.

That number signified the estimated 28 million people affected by cancer around the world, but the US outfit were promptly threatened with being forbidden for starting due to infringement of UCI attire rules.

Given that they were leading the team classification, there was no question that RadioShack wouldn’t comply with the request, but their riders, and Armstrong in particular, who really didn’t look too impressed at being ordered to change, took time to get their race numbers and radios swapped over to their more familiar red and grey jerseys – coincidentally ready at hand in the team car – and in the process garnered more TV exposure for the stunt than they’d perhaps anticipated when they dreamt it up.

That diversion meant that as they rode through the southwestern Parisian banlieue, the peloton was a good half an hour behind the predicted schedule, but once Astana, in keeping with tradition, led the maillot jaune and the rest of the 170 riders who had made it through the past three weeks onto the Champs-Elysées, the pace had been ratcheted up ahead of the 97th Tour de France’s showpiece finale.

On the first of eight laps on the Champs- Elysées, a six-strong escape group got off the front of the peloton, but all but Aleksandr Kushynski of Liquigas were caught just before the first intermediate sprint point on the next lap, the Belarus rider staying away long enough to take the maximum six points from Marcus Burghardt of BMC Racing and Ruben Perez Moreno of Euskaltel-Euskadi, denying Cavendish and Hushovd a chance of making up the gap on Petacchi in the race for the green jersey.

Immediately, another breakaway got away, this one comprising 11 riders, and holding an 20-second advantage over the peloton as it entered the second intermediate sprint lap, it was clear that Cavendish or Hushovd would have to finish high in the final sprint with Petacchi well down the field if they were to deny the Italian victory in the points classification.

That second intermediate sprint was won by Karsten Kroon of BMC Racing, with Sandy Casar of Francaise des Jeux second and Milram’s Christian Knees third, and the presence of riders such as Alexander Kolobnev of Katusha, Lampre’s Danilo Hondo, HTC-Columbia’s Tony Martin and Saxo Bank’s Kristian Sorensen allowed the group to work well together and maintain an advantage of around a third of a minute.

However, despite Kroon, Knees and Saxo Bank’s Nikki Sorensen getting off the front of the escape group, the rest of the breakaway had been swept up by the time the bell went to signify the start of the final lap, and with HTC-Columbia and Lampre-Farnese Vini stepping up the pace ahead of the final lap, that trio too were brought back into the bunch.

On the closing lap, Team Sky came to the front of the peloton as they looked to set up Edvald Boasson Hagen for their first stage win in cycling's biggest race, Juan Antonio Flecha quickly chasing down an attempted escape from the ever-combative Carlos Barredo of Quick Step.

Coming down the Rue de Rivoli and onto the Place de la Concorde for the final time, however, it was Hushovd and Petacchi whose teams brought them to the front to fight for the sprint until Cavendish - missing, of course, his usual leadout man Mark Renshaw, who had finished second behind him on the final stage last year - simply  tore past on his way to victory.

Petacchi’s second place today may have been enough to secure him the points classification, something that few would have predicted three weeks ago, but his real battle may only just be beginning since he is due to appear before magistrates in Italy this week after being told that he is under formal investigation for suspected use of performance enhancing substances including synthetic blood.

Stage 20 Result

1 CAVENDISH Mark	  TEAM HTC-COLUMBIA	2h 42' 21"
2 PETACCHI Alessandro	  LAMPRE-FARNESE	all same time
3 DEAN Julian	          GARMIN-TRANSITIONS
4 ROELANDTS Jürgen	  OMEGA PHARMA-LOTTO
5 FREIRE Oscar	          RABOBANK
6 CIOLEK Gerald	          TEAM MILRAM
7 HUSHOVD Thor	          CERVELO TEST TEAM
8 BRESCHEL Matti	  TEAM SAXO BANK
9 MC EWEN Robbie	  KATUSHA TEAM
10 OSS Daniel	          LIQUIGAS-DOIMO
11 MAASKANT Martijn	  GARMIN-TRANSITIONS
12 MONDORY Lloyd	  AG2R LA MONDIALE
13 TURGOT Sébastien	  BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM
14 ROJAS Jose Joaquin	  CAISSE D’EPARGNE
15 PEREZ Ruben	          EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI
16 ARASHIRO Yukiya	  BBOX BOUYGUES TELECOM
17 HAGEN Edvald Boasson	  SKY PRO CYCLING
18 BOOM Lars	          RABOBANK
19 BALLAN Alessandro	  BMC RACING TEAM
20 HONDO Danilo	          LAMPRE-FARNESE

Final Overall Standings

1 CONTADOR Alberto        ASTANA             89h 16' 27"
2 SCHLECK Andy            TEAM SAXO BANK       + 00' 39"
3 MENCHOV Denis           RABOBANK             + 02' 01"
4 SANCHEZ Samuel          EUSKALTEL-EUSKADI    + 03' 40"
5 VAN DEN BROECK Jurgen   OMEGA PHARMA-LOTTO   + 06' 54"
6 GESINK Robert           RABOBANK             + 09' 31"
7 HESJEDAL Ryder          GARMIN-TRANSITIONS   + 10' 15"
8 RODRIGUEZ Joaquin       KATUSHA TEAM         + 11' 37"
9 KREUZIGER Roman         LIQUIGAS-DOIMO       + 11' 54"
10 HORNER Christopher     TEAM RADIOSHACK      + 12' 02"
11 SANCHEZ Luis-Leon      CAISSE D’EPARGNE     + 14' 21"
12 PLAZA Ruben            CAISSE D’EPARGNE     + 14' 29"
13 LEIPHEIMER Levi        TEAM RADIOSHACK      + 14' 40"
14 KLÖDEN Andréas         TEAM RADIOSHACK      + 16' 36"
15 ROCHE Nicolas          AG2R LA MONDIALE     + 16' 59"
16 VINOKOUROV Alexandre   ASTANA               + 17' 46"
17 LÖVKVIST Thomas        SKY PRO CYCLING      + 20' 46"
18 DE WEERT Kevin         QUICK STEP           + 21' 54"
19 GADRET John	          AG2R LA MONDIALE     + 24' 04"
20 SASTRE Carlos	  CERVELO TEST TEAM    + 26' 37"

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.