Paris: Vincenzo Nibali became the first Italian to win the Tour de France since the late Marco Pantani on Sunday.
While Italy celebrated its seventh Tour winner, a jubilant France hailed its first double podium finish in 30 years as veteran Jean-Christophe Peraud and youngster Thibaut Pinot took second and third respectively.
“We are very happy today, it’s a beautiful victory. Congratulations to the whole team,” said Nibali’s Astana team manager Alexandre Vinokourov.
Nibali beat Peraud by 7:37 and Pinot by 8:15 to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours after Belgian Eddy Merckx, Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Italian Felice Gimondi and Spaniard Alberto Contador.
The Italian finished safely as the sprinters contested the embers of the three-week Tour around the Champs Elysees, emulating the 1998 feat of Pantani. Germany’s Marcel Kittel produced a burst of speed to claim the final stage, his fourth stage win of the Tour and a repeat of his victory on the iconic Parisian landmark last year.
Nibali began the day with a near eight-minute lead and only needed to avoid a last-day crash to complete victory.
Contador, who was hoping to add to his two Tour titles, crashed out in the 10th stage, riding 15 kilometres with a broken shinbone before pulling out.
Last year’s winner Chris Froome packed his bags after a crash on the cobbles in the fifth stage, the day Nibali opened a big gap over all his main rivals with a scintillating display on the treacherous lanes of northern France.
“I was ready to take them on. And crashes are part of the race,” Nibali replied when asked if Froome and Contador’s exits would undermine his title. Nicknamed ‘The Shark of Messina’, Nibali stayed true to his aggressive self by attacking repeatedly on the big climbs, hammering the opposition in the mountains.
While the 2012 Tour crowned a ‘rouleur’ in Wiggins and a climber the following year in Froome, this year’s race belonged to a true all-rounder. On Sunday, he just stayed safe in the bunch during the last stage as Kittel beat Norway’s Alexander Kristoff and Lithuanian Ramunas Navardauskas.
The 137.5-km procession to Paris started from Evry in a festive atmosphere after the riders were transferred by plane from Bergerac, where all the distinctive jerseys were effectively sealed.
True to tradition, Nibali and his teammates drank champagne while the peloton rode towards Paris at a snail’s pace. It got competitive once the race reached Paris as the bunch geared up for the final sprint. Peraud crashed with 43km left as he slipped on a curve leading to the Champs Elysees. But he got back onto his bike and helped by teammates, fought his way back into the peloton.