Vincenzo Nibali completed victory in the 101st Tour de France in Paris on Sunday as Marcel Kittel won an exciting final stage sprint finish on the Champs-Elysees.
A dominant showing saw Nibali (Astana) triumph by seven minutes 52 seconds to become the sixth rider to win all three Grand Tours, after Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Alberto Contador.
The Italian, winner of the 2010 Vuelta a Espana and 2013 Giro d’Italia, wore the fabled maillot jaune for 18 of the Tour’s 21 race days, having first taken the race lead on day two in Sheffield with his first of four stage victories.
Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) finished second and third to ensure there was two Frenchmen on the Tour podium for the first time since 1984, when Laurent Fignon won ahead of Hinault.
Who knows how Nibali would have fared had misfortune and injury not struck 2013 winner Chris Froome (Team Sky) and two-time champion Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), both of whom abandoned with broken bones.
But there is no doubt Nibali has been the race’s dominant rider, winning across four mountain ranges, and he celebrated victory in Paris with his baby daughter Emma.
He is already looking towards the 2015 Tour, with Froome, Contador and 2014 Giro winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) likely to start in Utrecht.
Nibali won in Sheffield, La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges, Chamrousse in the Alps and Hautacam in the Pyrenees, but the greatest time he took out of his rivals was on the cobbled fifth stage in northern France.
On the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday, Peraud crashed as the racing began and had to fight to return to the peloton.
Richie Porte (Team Sky) made a forlorn attempt to break away on the finishing circuit, but a bunch sprint was inevitable in the unofficial sprinters’ World Championships and the Australian was caught entering the final lap.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) – winner of four successive sprints in Paris from 2009 to 2012 as part of his overall haul of 25 – was absent having crashed out on stage one in Harrogate.
Kittel (Giant-Shimano) ended Cavendish’s streak last year and won in Harrogate, the home town of the Manxman’s mother at the end of the Tour’s opening stage on July 5th.
In Paris the German, winner of three of the first four stages of the race, claimed his fourth triumph to equal his haul of 12 months ago and bookend the race with victories.
There was a battle between Omega Pharma-QuickStep and Giant-Shimano into the final kilometre, when Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) and Ramunas Navardauskas (Garmin-Sharp) tried to infiltrate the sprint trains.
Kristoff was ahead, but Kittel reeled in his rival to win by half a bike length and celebrate victory.
The Norwegian was second and Navardauskas third as Nibali finished safely in the pack in 81st place.
Ireland’s Nicolas Roche finished in 113th position, ending the tour in 39th position, just shy of two hours off Nibalis’s winning time of 89:59.06.