July 27, Stage 21: Évry – Paris Champs-Élysées 137.5km
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) won the Tour de France on Sunday evening, while Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano) won the sprint on the Champs Elysees for the second consecutive year. Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) was second in the final stage, with third going to Garmin-Sharp’s Ramunas Navardauskus.
“I want to thank the whole team,” Kittel said. As to the record seven German stage wins, “I think it is unbelievable, a wake-up call for all Germans that they can be proud of us.”
Nibali won four stages on his way to his maiden Tour victory, adding it to his titles in the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana.
There were, as virtually always, no changes in the rankings on the final day. Nibali claimed the title by nearly eight minutes over his nearest rival, Jean-Christophe Peraud (AG2R), with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr) third at nearly eight and a half minutes down.
The green jersey went to Peter Sagan (Cannondale), who wore it since the second stage, despite not winning any stages. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) took home the polka-dot jersey of the best climber, while Pinot was the best young rider.
The closing stage followed its usual pattern, from very relaxed celebrations to a casual ride to all-out on the Champs Elysees. A trio established itself as a break group, but never got more than 24 seconds ahead, while Peraud suffered some horrifying moments when he crashed and had to be brought back up by four teammates. The escapees never had a serious chance, as the sprint teams worked hard for their chance to win the most prestigious sprint stage.
Nibali dominant from start
Nibali, 29, became only the sixth rider in history to have won all three Grand Tours, and the first since Eddy Merckx claimed titles in the Tour and Giro d’Italia in 1974 – 10 years before Nibali was born. Nibali won the Vuelta a España in 2010 and the Giro d’Italia in 2013.
However, he won the race in the absence of his two top rivals, both of whom were forced to abandon due to injuries, and no other rider was able to knock him off the throne.
The Italian showed his cards (and his intentions) early, winning the second stage into Sheffield, when he jumped from the group of favourites with two kilometers to go and held on to take the win by two seconds. That gave him the yellow jersey, which he gave up for only one day during the rest of the Tour.
Stage 5 featured many of the cobblestones of Paris-Roubaix and it lived up to its expectations of being a crucial stage. Defending champion Chris Froome (Sky), who crashed during the previous stage and twice more during stage 5, abandoned the race entirely, before the cobbles had even started. Nibali remained calm during the hectic stage and finished third. His remaining rival, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), did not do so well on the bumpy surface and lost nearly three minutes.
Nibali’s victory in Sheffield was only the first of four for the Astana captain. He briefly lost the yellow jersey after stage 9 to Tony Gallopin (Lotto Belisol), when an escape group finished nearly eight minutes ahead of the field.
Those riders were not up to the challenges of the first real mountain stage the next day, a day which saw Contador forced to leave the race with a broken leg. Nibali went on to win the stage, and again in the Alps on stage 13 and in the Pyrenees on stage 18, leaving no doubt about who was the best in this year’s Tour de France.
After Nibali’s dominance was established and his two rivals eliminated, attention turned to the French riders’ battle for the podium – the last time a Frenchman made the podium was Richard Virenque in 1997. Péraud, Pinot and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) battled it out, with the stage 20 time trial making the final decision.
A leisurely start
The final stage started with a long neutralized section, giving the Astana team time to clink champagne glasses in honour of race leader Nibali. Even after the flag was dropped, much of the stage was dedicated to chatting and fraternizing, giving everyone in the peloton the chance to enjoy their accomplishment of having survived the last three weeks.
No sooner did they finally reach the Champs Elysees than the attacks started, with the first, of course, coming from a Frenchman. Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) jumped but was unable to stay away. The pace had finally picked up, and the field sped across the cobbles through the heart of the French capital.
The next to go was Jens Voigt of Trek – although it more likely that the veteran was given an honour lead in this, his last Tour. He was joined by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Sven Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge)
A crash with just over 40km to go to took down Peraud. He appeared to be uninjured, but still had to hurry up to catch back up, as the flying field did not wait. He was soon together with four teammates, who helped him back to the peloton.
A discussion broke out at the head of the field, apparently as to whether they should wait for Peraud. Nibali was encouraging a slowdown, while others were clearly seen shaking their heads and denying his request. Other riders moved up to protect the chances of the overall second, and Peraud soon was back in the fold.
A group of four jumped soon, with Richie Porte (Sky), Michael Morkov (Tinkoff-Saxo), Jose Sera (Lampre) and Armindo Fonseca (Bretagne) built up a lead of 20 seconds. Lotto and Giant-Shimano lead the field in chase at 60km/h.
Alexander Kristoff of Katusha had hoped to claim another win but his chances dimmed when he punctured with 30km to go. He was going again very quickly, but still had to work his way through the autos and up to the front of the peloton.
Fonseca could not hold the speed, and dropped back with just over 25km to go, as another foursome of pursuit formed. Svein Tuft had turned on the speed so much he took several others with him, but they too all soon dropped back, as the gap fell to 13 seconds.
The gap had grown again to 24 seconds as the crossed the finish line for the final three laps. But with two laps to go, the sprinters’ teams had ground down the lead, and Serpa and Morkov were caught.
Porte refused to give in and kept on going, in the hopes of salvaging something for Team Sky in this year’s race. With 10km to go, the sprint trains started forming, the pace kicked up yet another notch and Porte’s fate was sealed. He managed to hold on to the narrowest of leads but finally succumbed just before the last lap started.
The bright red of the Lotto jerseys was easy to pick out at the head of the field, but they were soon joined by the equally red Katusha, Cannondale, Europcar, and Giant-Shimano. With 5.5km to go, Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) took a brave jump in hopes of a rare solo victory.
Giant-Shimano then moved to lead the chase and he was indeed caught with 3.2km to go. Tony Martin (Omega Pharma) moved up as did Cannondale, searching for Sagan’s first stage win.
Omega Pharma and Giant Shimano fought it out for the lead under the flamme rouge. Kristoff made an astounding comeback to be at the front and it looked as if he would take the win, but Kittel dug deep to pass him and take his second win on the Champs Elysees.