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  • Words by Mr William Fotheringham, cycling columnist for The Guardian

Given the three weeks of pain, controversy, drama and glory that lead into the final day of the Tour de France, it has always had a special feel. Only once in a blue moon is the Tour won on the final day. This means that – unless you are a sprinter looking to win the prestigious final stage – the last Sunday is a celebratory procession.

An unwritten protocol dictates that the team of the winner leads the group onto the legendary finishing circuit in the heart of Paris. The images are iconic: champagne glasses and even cigars being passed from support cars to cyclists; teams riding arm in arm; the final belt up and down the Champs-Élysées.

Tales of the Tour's last long day, and the way it morphs into a long, long night, are legion: Sir Bradley Wiggins finishing triumphant in 2012 and laying waste to a spread at The Ritz laid on by Mr James Murdoch, before piling onto a private jet and flying home to win gold at the London Olympics; Mr Greg LeMond, pictured waking up with his wife Kathy the morning after his first win under a giant stars and stripes duvet, champagne bottle in hand; apocryphal stories of team helpers handing out Viagra to help exhausted riders through their first conjugal visit in several weeks. A different sort of performance enhancer.

The fate of the late Mr Laurent Fignon of France after his first win in 1983 best sums up the night. The "Professor" partied the night away on a pleasure boat on the Seine and "ended up in the arms of a gorgeous young girl", as he recalled. The next morning's papers had the pictures, splashed under the headline, "Tour de France winner relaxes with fiancée". "The only thing was, we weren't engaged," says Mr Fignon. "My fiancée was called Nathalie and we had kept our relationship secret." He received a rude awakening from his real intended that hazy Monday morning.

From an all-night bender to a designer shopping spree to the simple joy of wearing something other than Lycra, six riders, above, reveal what they do after finishing arguably the most gruelling annual sporting event on earth.

This year's Tour de France starts in Yorkshire, England on 5 July and finishes in Paris on 27 July. letour.com

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