MONTEREAU-FAULT-YONNE, France — Finally, the finale is here.
After three weeks, the weary remaining riders will pedal the final 164 kilometers (101.8 miles) of the Tour de France.
Beginning in the Vincennes Park, home of the velodrome named after famous French rider Jacques Anquetil, the cyclists will arrive about four hours later from the Southeast to the famous cobblestoned streets of the Champs-Elysees.
With the Arc d'Triomphe and Eiffel Tower as part of the awaiting landscape, the route will flat for 70 miles before the peloton arrives for eight 6.5-kilometer (4.03-miles) laps on the Paris circuit that usually attracts about a million people for a full day of cycling celebration.
The overall title has almost always been determined by the last stage, which has finished on the Champs Elysees every year since 1975.
As such, it's a day of periodic celebration for the riders, who are happy to finish the race. Sips of champagne along the route are common in the peloton and riders sometimes wear wigs or oddly colored socks.
For pending race winner Alberto Contador (Astana) of Spain, the final day will be to ride among his teammates, a squad soon-to-be drastically changed with the departure of Lance Armstrong and other teammates to the just-announced Team RadioShack for 2010.
The final day will also mark the first time since 1995 Lance Armstrong, who will likely finish third, has arrived in Paris on the final day without being the race winner. Despite its ceremonial nature, stage 21 will also have a winner, and it likely will be progress as a sprinters' stage.
Can Mark Cavendish (Columbia-HTC) of Great Britain win his six stage? Or, will Thor Hushovd (Cervelo TestTeam) of Norway or American Tyler Farrar (Garmin-Slipstream) find their way to the front and out pedal the world's best sprinter to conclude the race's 96th edition?
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James Raia is reporting live from the Tour de France for everymantri.com. James, a journalist since 1976, is co-author of Tour de France For Dummies. He owns several websites, contributes to many print and online publications. A long-distance runner for nearly 30 years, Raia also rides his bike -- to nearby coffeehouses.