- Tour de France, Stage 21
Fantastic Froome completes champagne Tour victory
One year ago, Sir Bradley Wiggins stood and joked on the podium as he ended Great Britain's 109-year wait for a Tour de France champion. Just 12 months later, it was the turn of Chris Froome to stand and take the applause after storming to an incredible victory in the 100th edition of the race.
Earlier on Sunday, six-time Olympic champion Sir Chris Hoy hailed Froome's efforts as "phenomenal" - simply put, there is no better way to describe the 28-year-old's sublime victory over the course of three gruelling weeks, 3,404 testing kilometres, three stage wins, a fine and one punched spectator.
In fitting style, Froome crossed the line arm-in-arm with his Team Sky team-mates, looking every inch a champion and showcasing a smile of sheer joy combined with disbelief.
"Crossing the line with the guys brought tears to my eyes," Froome said of his victory. "I expected it to be big but this is something else. I think it is going to take a while to really sink in. This has been a spectacular race."
However, it would prove a disappointing end for fellow Brit Mark Cavendish, who was pipped to a fifth-straight win on the Champs Elysees by Marcel Kittel. The German edged Cavendish and Andre Greipal in yet another thrilling sprint finish, somewhat of a sub-plot to this year's proceedings, to win his fourth stage of this year's race.
It all started back on June 29, when confusion and a huge crash marred the opening stage as the Orica team bus somehow became wedged under the finish line. Froome narrowly avoided the pile-up - but it was hardly a conventional start for the pre-Tour favourite.
How different a scene it was, though, moving within the final 100km of the finish line on the Champs Elysees. A wide smile was accompanied by a flute of champagne, a toast to victory and 13 days in the leader's colour with Sky team manager David Brailsford, as Froome effortlessly cruised along on his yellow-framed Pinarello bike.
The bike was not the only thing that had been modified for the finale - Froome's jersey glimmered in the closing hours of French sunlight, sparkling with hundreds of golden sequins to commemorate the centenary edition of cycling's showpiece event.
The ceremonial final stage, number 21 of Le Tour, began later than previous years as organisers wanted a dusk finish down the most famous street in the world. Flags from all nations - including strong support from the British - donned the railings, the public waiting patiently for the procession.
Joaquim Rodriquez - known as 'little cigar' - enjoyed photographs with Froome and the polka-dot wearing King of the Mountains winner Nairo Quintana, all with cigars in hand.
Peter Sagan, winner of the green jersey for a second successive year, could not contain his laughter; the Cannondale rider's smile accompanied by his green-dyed goatee. Andrew Talansky donned the white jersey as best young rider leader Quintana was already in the polka dots.
It has been a fantastic Tour debut for Colombian Quintana - the Movistar rider not only topped the King of the Mountains and best young rider standings, but also finished second in the general classification to Froome.
Meanwhile, Froome made his way through the peloton, shaking hands with several of the 170 remaining riders, although even he knew there was still work to be done. The peloton had to complete ten 7km circuits through the streets of Paris - starting and ending on the Champs Elysees.
Roars from the crowd greeted Froome and the pack, but it was Sky team-mate Richie Porte that had the honour of leading the peloton onto the Champs Elysees for the first time. Porte provided ultimate support to Froome throughout the mountainous stages, with a series of terrific rides.
Then, in the Paris sunshine, the racing began.
Last-placed Svein Tuft was soon dropped from the peloton as the pace skyrocketed to an average speed of 65km/hr.
Probably for the first time in its history, certainly the Tour's, the Arc de Triomphe was surrounded by two-wheeled traffic; riders circled the landmark instead of completing the usual turn before it.
There was drama for Cavendish as he fell behind with a puncture - the Omega Pharma rider was soon back on the saddle, though, and quickly rejoined the peloton.
Another Brit - David Millar - was the first to make a move, breaking forward from the pack with Juan Antonio Flecha before Lieuwe Westra suffered a heartbreaking end to his Tour when withdrawing with five laps to go.
Flecha pipped Millar for the final immediate sprint points - but all eyes would be on Cavendish just 40km down the road.
The leading duo soon succumbed to the inevitable as the peloton swallowed them up, before Alejandro Valverde and Jeremy Roy entertained another four-man breakaway with Bram Tamkink and Manuel Quinziato.
Cavendish hugged the front of the peloton with his Omega team-mates while sprint rivals Greipel and Kittel lurked in the wings with Sagan - the bunch finish just 10km away.
Finally, after three weeks in the saddle, the riders were comforted by the sound of the bell marking the last seven kilometres of the race.
Geraint Thomas, who had ridden pretty much the entirety of the Tour with a broken pelvis as a result of the chaos at the end of Stage One, led Froome into the final stretch of cobbled streets - a remarkable achievement considering the extent of his injury.
In the final kilometre, Cavendish got the early run out but was beaten half-a-wheel by the brilliant Kittel - however, all eyes had turned to Froome who peddled safely across the line, arms wrapped firmly around his team-mates, to complete his greatest victory in the saddle to date.
Stage 21 result
1. Marcel Kittel (Ger) Team Argos-Shimano 3hr 6mins 14secs
2. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol
3. Mark Cavendish (GB) Omega Pharma-Quick Step
4. Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale Pro Cycling
5. Roberto Ferrari (Ita) Lampre-Merida
6. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha
7. Kévin Reza (Fra) Team Europcar
8. Yohann Gene (Fra) Team Europcar
9. Daniele Bennati (Ita) Team Saxo-Tinkoff
10. Murilo Antonio Fischer (Bra) FDJ.fr
2013 Tour de France General Classification
1. Christopher Froome (GB) Team Sky 83hr 56mins 40secs
2. Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (Col) Movistar Team +4mins 20secs
3. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha +5mins 04secs
4. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +6mins 27secs
5. Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +7mins 27secs
6. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team +11mins 42secs
7. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team +12mins 17secs
8. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team +15mins 26secs
9. Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits +15mins 52secs
10. Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp +17mins 39secs