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tradition of the last TdF stage

Old 07-17-21, 12:19 PM
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tradition of the last TdF stage

As a sometimes watcher of the TdF I'm aware that traditionally the race is "decided" by the 20th stage, thought that one time it ended with a time trial may well be the only exception in the history of the event... it's the only one I've heard of anyways.

What struck me in the highlight coverage I've seen so far today is how definitive all the talk about the winner is. That's it. He won. End of story. This year isn't any different in that respect that what I've noticed in the past when I've followed coverage. I guess I'm a little curious as to the nature of this tradition. Is it because in most cases the margin is so wide by the time they're heading to Paris that it would kind of be asinine to make the leader chase down breakaways that contain riders close in time? If the time gap were closer (and the tour didn't end in a TT) would it be surprising if we saw someone try to make a play for it?

I'm also a little curious about the history of this tradition. Is it something that was there from the start? Or did it evolve over time in recognition that the leader's position is never really affected on the last stage, so why not just make it a kind of ceremonial kind of stage and all celebrate that we made it three weeks in one of the most brutal bike races in the world?
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Old 07-17-21, 12:43 PM
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The yellow jersey team would never let a competitor get into the breakaway period, they would just ride his wheel. Even in the late 2000's when the tour was decided for 3 years with less than a minute lead, no one challenged the yellow. The only way I could see it ever happening is if a massive cross wind would be around on the final stage before Paris and split the peloton into two and the yellow get caught in the 2nd peloton. I have to look but I think LeMond won by 8 seconds, I wonder if his closest rival (who I think was a team mate of his), did any challenges on the Paris stage.
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Old 07-17-21, 02:38 PM
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If there were only a few seconds between the GC leaders and those behind him, I'd be sure the last stage will be a race for GC also. But then you are also going to have to fight the teams that are putting their sprinters up to win the stage.

On a stage like the final will be, getting more than a second or two on the lead GC will be hard to do. So I think that's why it's mostly a presumed win and more ceremonial for the GC.
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Old 07-17-21, 02:40 PM
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Originally Posted by gpsblake View Post
The yellow jersey team would never let a competitor get into the breakaway period, they would just ride his wheel. Even in the late 2000's when the tour was decided for 3 years with less than a minute lead, no one challenged the yellow. The only way I could see it ever happening is if a massive cross wind would be around on the final stage before Paris and split the peloton into two and the yellow get caught in the 2nd peloton. I have to look but I think LeMond won by 8 seconds, I wonder if his closest rival (who I think was a team mate of his), did any challenges on the Paris stage.
Fignon. And that was in 1989, which AFAIK, was the only Champs Elysees stage in its history that was an ITT
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Old 07-17-21, 02:48 PM
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Originally Posted by gpsblake View Post
The yellow jersey team would never let a competitor get into the breakaway period, they would just ride his wheel. Even in the late 2000's when the tour was decided for 3 years with less than a minute lead, no one challenged the yellow. The only way I could see it ever happening is if a massive cross wind would be around on the final stage before Paris and split the peloton into two and the yellow get caught in the 2nd peloton. I have to look but I think LeMond won by 8 seconds, I wonder if his closest rival (who I think was a team mate of his), did any challenges on the Paris stage.
That LeMond win by 8 seconds was against Laurent Fignon in a time trial and it was the final stage that year. Of historical note, LeMond used aero bars and a then new aero helmet. Fignon had like bullhorn bars and no helmet with long hair in a pony tail to boot. I don't think they were on the same team.

As it happens, GCN posted a video on just this topic some time after I made my post, and I think it pretty much answered my question as well as I could have liked.


salient points:
  • attack on the last day for a win happened once in like the 1940s
  • usually, by the time the last stage comes around, the time gap was just too large to make a realistic try
  • up until the 1980s though, when conditions made for a possible change in GC (or other things like points classification... that would *also* have implications on GC) there's support for the notion that attempts were in fact made to win on the final day in Paris. Argument is made on this point that no such tradition of not attacking on the final day existed
  • from the last instance where a bridgeable gap existed on the last stage in the 1980s and the next time that happened with a 16 second (?) gap in the early 2000s between Armstrong and Ullrich, the tradition had been established that the last stage was more ceremonial (drinking champagne, goofing around, etc) and no play had been made by the rider 2nd in the GC standings
My assessment then is that as tradition goes, this is a recent phenomenon. As far as this year goes specifically, the gap is too large for any attempt to be realistically made and, barring any mitigating factor as you had pointed out, so it make sense to talk about the winner to be established after stage 20 in definitive terms. However, I think it's just a matter of time before we see two or more riders close in time at stage 21 where this tradition gets set aside. It seems that during the normal course of things, such close gaps at that stage are infrequent though. For my money, I think a possible likely scenario would be a rider being 1st in GC that is weak in the time trial and getting close to caught, or even slightly surpassed on the last TT.


edit:

Given the kind of race the last stage into Paris usually is, what kind of time gap would you expect to see an attempt made? Is a minute too much? Is there usually any time bonuses on the final stage? How does that factor in?
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Old 07-17-21, 03:04 PM
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Yea, they weren't on the same team in 89. I was thinking Lemond-Hinault rivalry a few years earlier when they were on the same team. Reading about it now, when Hinault won in 85, there was team controversy where Lemond thought he could have won the race in 1985 but the team wouldn't let him. But in 86, Hinault vowed to support Lemond, which they ended up finishing 1-2 including a stage were they finished hand in hand. Could Hinault have won a 6th title in 1986 instead of supporting Lemond? No one knows I guess for him.

Lemond seems to be so much distant history, and it's a shame so much of him has been forgotten and rarely mentioned.
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Old 07-17-21, 03:08 PM
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Originally Posted by gurana View Post
...
.
edited
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edit:

Given the kind of race the last stage into Paris usually is, what kind of time gap would you expect to see an attempt made? Is a minute too much? Is there usually any time bonuses on the final stage? How does that factor in?
There isn't always a time bonus on the line on sprint stages, but 10 seconds is the maximum that could be expected. It's highly unlikely that someone who is fast enough to win the final sprint stage would be in contention for yellow though, so there would certainly have to be a time gap in order for the overall GC race to be changed. If the time difference were more than 15 seconds, it would take a freak accident, or a crash, or a very untimely mechanical issue for the race standings to be affected. Even then, the race committee might have the power to make the ultimate decision.
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Old 07-17-21, 06:18 PM
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Originally Posted by gurana View Post
That LeMond win by 8 seconds was against Laurent Fignon in a time trial and it was the final stage that year. Of historical note, LeMond used aero bars and a then new aero helmet. Fignon had like bullhorn bars and no helmet with long hair in a pony tail to boot. I don't think they were on the same team.
<...>
My assessment then is that as tradition goes, this is a recent phenomenon. As far as this year goes specifically, the gap is too large for any attempt to be realistically made and, barring any mitigating factor as you had pointed out, so it make sense to talk about the winner to be established after stage 20 in definitive terms. However, I think it's just a matter of time before we see two or more riders close in time at stage 21 where this tradition gets set aside. It seems that during the normal course of things, such close gaps at that stage are infrequent though. For my money, I think a possible likely scenario would be a rider being 1st in GC that is weak in the time trial and getting close to caught, or even slightly surpassed on the last TT.
In 1979 Hinault had 3+ min on Zoetemelk going into the final stage but took a 50+km flyer anyway. Zoetemelk eventually latched on but lost the sprint to Hinault. The rest of the field came in 2 minutes later . There wasn't much of a chase because Hinault's and Zoetemelk's teams controlled the pack, and anyway what was the point, 3rd place was almost half an hour down on GC
from Hinault. Who, BTW, had won the bunch sprint the stage before. Zoetemelk then lost an additional ten minutes when he failed a drug test.

Last edited by sincos; 07-17-21 at 06:20 PM. Reason: (clarify time gap on GC)
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Old 07-18-21, 03:57 PM
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So as expected and is true every year, the race started with long uncontested procession.

Then there was a breakaway, though it didn't have much chance because, of course, the sprint teams brought it back. The breakaway was mostly for show- to get in front of the cameras for the final audience.

And then, the sprint finish.

That's the formula. It will be true next year too.
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Old 07-22-21, 04:03 AM
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Originally Posted by gurana View Post
That LeMond win by 8 seconds was against Laurent Fignon in a time trial and it was the final stage that year. Of historical note, LeMond used aero bars and a then new aero helmet. Fignon had like bullhorn bars and no helmet with long hair in a pony tail to boot.
That's how the final stage TT of the 1989 TdF is often summarized, but it omits some crucial details. Sometimes that 8 second loss to LeMond is characterized as a "tragedy" for Fignon, or some such thing. But it was just a tactical error on Fignon's part.

In the 1989 Tour de France there were five time trials: the prologue and three other individual TTs, including an individual mountain time trial, and one team TT.

If I'm recalling correctly, Fignon used aero gear on every other time trial *except* for the final. I just reviewed the highlights of that '89 TdF and it appeared that Fignon wore an aero helmet in every other individual and team TT, as well as at least a rear disc wheel. I think there was one TT in which Fignon used two disc wheels to LeMond's single disc wheel.

LeMond used the early Scott-type elbow rest aero bars in Stage 5, the first individual TT after the prologue. (I've tried those Scott aero bars -- they're horrible, an ergonomic nightmare to get into and hold a tuck for more than a minute or two at a time, at least for me due to neck and shoulder injuries. The newer Profile carbon fiber aero bars were much better, supporting the elbows rather than just the forearms.) Fignon's team protested but the Tour organizers ruled the aero bars were acceptable. At that point Fignon had the option to try using the aero bars himself. He didn't do so, possibly because he needed more time to practice. Possibly because he was a traditionalist and a bit vain. But he definitely didn't resist using whatever aero advantages were available, including those early sloping top tube funny bikes for time trials. Even the diehard traditionalist Bernard Hinault, a powerful time trialist, wore an aero helmet for time trials in 1985 and '86.

At that point Fignon had more than two weeks to at least try using aero bars to prepare for the final stage. But by the final stage, he even declined to use the aero helmet that he'd already worn in previous TTs. That was a significant tactical error.

Another interesting bit of trivia, possibly a bit of irony: The 1989 Tour de France was Pedro Delgado's to win or lose. He was the defending champion, pre-race betting favorite, and blew nearly 3 minutes with a late start at the prologue time trial.

After the first stage some commentators said the tour was over for Delgado because of that deficit.

Delgado remained a threat throughout the '89 Tour, and did very well in time trials despite not consistently using the available aero kit. If I'm recalling correctly he went bareheaded on at least one individual TT. I don't recall whether he used disc wheels.

Delgado finished in 3rd place, 3'34" behind LeMond. Going into the final stage TT, he had basically the same deficit he started with due to the late start at the prologue. Delgado rode a phenomenal Tour that year, but faltered on the final TT and lost nearly a minute.

I suspect the reason Delgado's name isn't associated with as much "What if?" speculation as Fignon ("What if Laurent had worn his aero helmet? What if he'd at least tried the aero bars on that final TT?), is because Delgado was suspected of doping. He'd been gigged the year before when he won the '88 TdF for using a diuretic masking agent, used to conceal the use of steroids, but some technicality or ruling allowed him to keep the title.

Anyway, the 2021 final stage was more of a competitive criterium rather than a processional and formality. Probably because Cavendish was going for the 35th stage win, which juiced up everyone's interest in a real final stage rather than just a champagne parade.
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Old 07-22-21, 08:18 AM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
That's how the final stage TT of the 1989 TdF is often summarized, but it omits some crucial details. Sometimes that 8 second loss to LeMond is characterized as a "tragedy" for Fignon, or some such thing. But it was just a tactical error on Fignon's part.

...
Most recounts of this story certainly seem to imply that LeMond pulled the aerobars out for the first time on that last stage to the surprise and outrage of the rest of the field. I had no idea they were used in earlier stages and that brings up a whole new set of questions for me. It does seem unlikely that LeMond as an individual or even his team can simply bring out a novel piece of equipment and the UCI would just be ok with it. Was it therefor presented to the UCI for approval prior to the tour? If so, when was the approval made known to everybody?

If the teams knew ahead of time there could be all sorts of reasons that we didn't see them more widely used in that first tour after the approval. Maybe some protested and refused to adopt for reasons of tradition. Maybe some underestimated the benefit. Maybe some saw that there was benefit, but didn't feel there was enough time to implement. It would take some time for a rider to get used to the new position to the point where their unfamiliarity wasn't more of a hindrance than the aero bars were a help. With that in mind, I don't think Fignon can be faulted for not just throwing them on his bike if he didn't go into the tour already knowing how to use them. Maybe two weeks is sufficient time to get familiarity, but it seems like a lot to ask someone to practice on in between stages in the middle of a tour.

The helmet thing certainly seems like it was a mistake that Fignon could be blamed for, especially if he used one in the earlier time trials. I don't know that there's a legitimate way to figure this out, but it's been said that an aero helmet would have been worth at least a few seconds over the TT and with the final margin so close it's hard not to see that as a fatal mistake.
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Old 07-22-21, 11:09 AM
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When I first began watching the tour ten years ago, I was disappointed that the last stage was treated as "ceremonial." I had just begun amateur road racing and *knew* darn well that a time gap of just a few minutes could be overcome by a well-timed attack on a 50K race, much less a 110K race. A few years later, I began to appreciate just how different pro races are from amateur races. The difference between the strongest and weakest rider at the TdF is probably less than the difference between the first and fifth place rider in a Cat 3/4 race. I rode with a few pros and talked with a kid on our team who went pro. They explained that the difference between most Cat 1 and 2 riders (who I idolized as near-pros) and a true professional on a world tour team is greater than the difference between most Cat 1 and Cat 5 racers. Everything from training to resources to genetic aptitude is at such a high level that meaningful differences among pros, in terms of race placing, are really the result of miniscule differences in training, conditioning and equipment.

As others above have said, what this means on the last stage of the TdF -- a relative short and flat stage -- is that any time difference greater than about 15-seconds will be nearly impossible to overcome absent something extraordinarily bad happening. The riders are just that close in ability and skill, something that would be hard to fathom in even the most prestigious amateur races.

To put into perspective, this year's winner spent just shy of 83 hours over three weeks of the most grueling, hardest fought bike racing the planet can offer, yet the top ten were separated by only 18-minutes over that span. Even the lanterne rouge was only 5-hours behind and most folks near the bottom are there either due to injury/crashes or because team tactics put them there. These guys are incredibly well-honed machines.

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Old 07-22-21, 03:42 PM
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Originally Posted by gurana View Post
Most recounts of this story certainly seem to imply that LeMond pulled the aerobars out for the first time on that last stage to the surprise and outrage of the rest of the field. I had no idea they were used in earlier stages and that brings up a whole new set of questions for me. It does seem unlikely that LeMond as an individual or even his team can simply bring out a novel piece of equipment and the UCI would just be ok with it. Was it therefor presented to the UCI for approval prior to the tour? If so, when was the approval made known to everybody?

If the teams knew ahead of time there could be all sorts of reasons that we didn't see them more widely used in that first tour after the approval. Maybe some protested and refused to adopt for reasons of tradition. Maybe some underestimated the benefit. Maybe some saw that there was benefit, but didn't feel there was enough time to implement. It would take some time for a rider to get used to the new position to the point where their unfamiliarity wasn't more of a hindrance than the aero bars were a help. With that in mind, I don't think Fignon can be faulted for not just throwing them on his bike if he didn't go into the tour already knowing how to use them. Maybe two weeks is sufficient time to get familiarity, but it seems like a lot to ask someone to practice on in between stages in the middle of a tour.

The helmet thing certainly seems like it was a mistake that Fignon could be blamed for, especially if he used one in the earlier time trials. I don't know that there's a legitimate way to figure this out, but it's been said that an aero helmet would have been worth at least a few seconds over the TT and with the final margin so close it's hard not to see that as a fatal mistake.
Yeah, it had been awhile since I'd watched the 1989 TdF videos, so I was surprised to notice those details.

If I'm reading the various interviews correctly, LeMond decided just before the '89 TdF to try the aero bars. He didn't have much experience with them either. But he used them effectively that year.

In 1989 LeMond was still struggling to regain his form after the shooting accident, and wasn't sure he'd do well or even finish that year's TdF. And he definitely struggled the first week, but gradually rode himself into shape and doggedly gnawed away at the lead. He seemed to be motivated by a frenemy rivalry with Fignon. They were very similar in physiques, riding styles, strengths and weaknesses.

The next year at the 1990 TdF a few more riders used aero bars, but many didn't. It probably cost Claudio Chiappucci some time. He stuck with a conventional drop bar road bike for -- if I'm recalling correctly -- the stage 20 final time trial. Chiappucci was leading after stage 19, but lost a lot of time in the stage 20 TT and was obviously struggling.

Meanwhile LeMond did ride a bike with aero bars, but also appeared uncomfortable with the aero bars and was in and out of the saddle, mostly using the regular bars. Probably because the stage was more of a roller coaster than the 1989 final stage TT which had been mostly flat, a gradual downhill grade, with a bit of a tailwind -- very fast and well suited to aero bars. And the 1990 stage 20 TT day was hotter than usual, so even LeMond omitted the aero helmet.

It was interesting to watch the gradual development of more aero bikes and rider skills. Not long ago I rewatched the early 2000s TdFs and as much of Floyd Landis's rides in 2006 as I could find online. Landis was an underrated rider whose strengths and skills were overshadowed by the doping scandal... and possibly by his quirky personality. But he was a strong, skillful TT rider, looking much more comfortable than most of his rivals on the aero bars. And he was using the then-legal and much more aero praying mantis position, which was later banned by UCI, although I think it's still legal for most triathlons. So now most UCI competitors use aero bars nearly parallel with the ground. I suppose the UCI prefers it because it looks more ... I dunno ... traditional? Hard to tell, since this is the same organization that now bans the puppy paws invisible aero bar position, with forearms draped across the tops of the drop bars, which didn't seem dangerous on breakaways. That puppy paws position enabled Remco Evenopoel to dominate some breakaways and time trials that prohibited the use of aero bars and special TT bikes. Remco mastered that position and was very comfortable and stable using it.

Nowadays when a race analyst says "So and so didn't spend much time on the time trial bike," that rider still appears more comfortable and faster on the TT bike than many of his predecessors in the early 2000s.
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Old 07-22-21, 04:33 PM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post

It was interesting to watch the gradual development of more aero bikes and rider skills. Not long ago I rewatched the early 2000s TdFs and as much of Floyd Landis's rides in 2006 as I could find online. Landis was an underrated rider whose strengths and skills were overshadowed by the doping scandal... and possibly by his quirky personality. But he was a strong, skillful TT rider, looking much more comfortable than most of his rivals on the aero bars. And he was using the then-legal and much more aero praying mantis position, which was later banned by UCI, although I think it's still legal for most triathlons. So now most UCI competitors use aero bars nearly parallel with the ground. I suppose the UCI prefers it because it looks more ... I dunno ... traditional? Hard to tell, since this is the same organization that now bans the puppy paws invisible aero bar position, with forearms draped across the tops of the drop bars, which didn't seem dangerous on breakaways. That puppy paws position enabled Remco Evenopoel to dominate some breakaways and time trials that prohibited the use of aero bars and special TT bikes. Remco mastered that position and was very comfortable and stable using it.

Nowadays when a race analyst says "So and so didn't spend much time on the time trial bike," that rider still appears more comfortable and faster on the TT bike than many of his predecessors in the early 2000s.
My recollection of that first post-Armstrong Tour was that people found it weird that Landis was "the guy" to take up the mantel. That could be my memory revising history based on the eventual outcomes though, but even with my limited knowledge of bike racing there were more than a few other riders I would have thought were going to be better. A lot of the explanation at the time though was how much effort Landis had put into perfecting the time trial. Must have seemed plausible at the time and I certainly remember some talk about the unique arm position.
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Old 08-31-21, 08:05 AM
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Barring cross winds, the fact that the stage ends with pretty simple crit laps of the Champs means that the "same time" rule of the sprint finishes mostly makes this impossible.

You would have to have a miniscule time gap and some kind of crazy cross wind that causes a split.

WRT to this, last solo win on the Champs was Vinoukerov in 2005. Modern era enough for me to say with a perfect storm it could happen. The time delta and bonuses meant Vinoukerov picked up time on his rivals.........per Wiki. I had to look it up.

So, if wind is light, weather good.......as is typical of that day and the gap is anything more than 5 seconds.............I'd say it's pointless.
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Old 08-31-21, 09:02 AM
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It's pointless for the GC guys. Just one more day to survive. But, every sprinter and every team that has a sprinter wants to win that stage. If a sprinter can only win one stage the whole tour, he would want it to be that stage. It has it's importance.
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Old 09-01-21, 03:37 PM
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Originally Posted by canklecat View Post
That's how the final stage TT of the 1989 TdF is often summarized, but it omits some crucial details. Sometimes that 8 second loss to LeMond is characterized as a "tragedy" for Fignon, or some such thing. But it was just a tactical error on Fignon's part.

In the 1989 Tour de France there were five time trials: the prologue and three other individual TTs, including an individual mountain time trial, and one team TT.

If I'm recalling correctly, Fignon used aero gear on every other time trial *except* for the final. I just reviewed the highlights of that '89 TdF and it appeared that Fignon wore an aero helmet in every other individual and team TT, as well as at least a rear disc wheel. I think there was one TT in which Fignon used two disc wheels to LeMond's single disc wheel.

LeMond used the early Scott-type elbow rest aero bars in Stage 5, the first individual TT after the prologue. (I've tried those Scott aero bars -- they're horrible, an ergonomic nightmare to get into and hold a tuck for more than a minute or two at a time, at least for me due to neck and shoulder injuries. The newer Profile carbon fiber aero bars were much better, supporting the elbows rather than just the forearms.) Fignon's team protested but the Tour organizers ruled the aero bars were acceptable. At that point Fignon had the option to try using the aero bars himself. He didn't do so, possibly because he needed more time to practice. Possibly because he was a traditionalist and a bit vain. But he definitely didn't resist using whatever aero advantages were available, including those early sloping top tube funny bikes for time trials. Even the diehard traditionalist Bernard Hinault, a powerful time trialist, wore an aero helmet for time trials in 1985 and '86.

At that point Fignon had more than two weeks to at least try using aero bars to prepare for the final stage. But by the final stage, he even declined to use the aero helmet that he'd already worn in previous TTs. That was a significant tactical error.

Another interesting bit of trivia, possibly a bit of irony: The 1989 Tour de France was Pedro Delgado's to win or lose. He was the defending champion, pre-race betting favorite, and blew nearly 3 minutes with a late start at the prologue time trial.

After the first stage some commentators said the tour was over for Delgado because of that deficit.

Delgado remained a threat throughout the '89 Tour, and did very well in time trials despite not consistently using the available aero kit. If I'm recalling correctly he went bareheaded on at least one individual TT. I don't recall whether he used disc wheels.

Delgado finished in 3rd place, 3'34" behind LeMond. Going into the final stage TT, he had basically the same deficit he started with due to the late start at the prologue. Delgado rode a phenomenal Tour that year, but faltered on the final TT and lost nearly a minute.

I suspect the reason Delgado's name isn't associated with as much "What if?" speculation as Fignon ("What if Laurent had worn his aero helmet? What if he'd at least tried the aero bars on that final TT?), is because Delgado was suspected of doping. He'd been gigged the year before when he won the '88 TdF for using a diuretic masking agent, used to conceal the use of steroids, but some technicality or ruling allowed him to keep the title.

Anyway, the 2021 final stage was more of a competitive criterium rather than a processional and formality. Probably because Cavendish was going for the 35th stage win, which juiced up everyone's interest in a real final stage rather than just a champagne parade.
Fignon used disc wheels front and rear in the final TT. Lemond used disc rear and spoke front. The received wisdom is that it was a little windy on the day, and a spoke front would have been easier to control. Itís been said that Fignon looked uncomfortable on his bike.

That discomfort may have been due to the ďmother and father of all saddle sores,Ē with which he was apparently suffering at the time.

The technicality for Delgado was that the substance he got popped for was on the Olympic banned list, but not the UCI. By their own rules, the UCI couldnít take action.

Delgado not only lost time in the prologue, he then went out and blew up on the TTT next day and lost another shedload of time. After day 2 he was in dead last place, 7 or 8 minutes down.
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