Kittel Wins Final Stage of Tour de France; Froome Claims Overall
Compatriot Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) finished second, and Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), the winner of the last four final stages on the Champs Elysses, settled for third. Moments after the sprinters settled matters, Chris Froome (Sky), the 2013 Tour champion, crossed the finish line with his teammates.
As always, the early part of the Tour’s final stage was lighthearted. Before the start, the riders were given leave to wander the grounds of the palace of Versailles, the home of Kings Louis XIV, XV, and XVI. When the racing started, a long neutralized section included a circuit of the palace. The various competition winners appeared at the front of the peloton, with points competition winner Peter Sagan’s (Cannondale) goatee dyed green to resemble his jersey and third-place finisher Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) lighting the Purito cigar that spawned his nickname.
When the flag was dropped, Omega Pharma-Quick Step went to the front, but the tempo did not increase. Ag2r-La Mondiale was photographed, as Romain Bardet was the highest placed Frenchman (15th) and Christophe Riblon was the only French stage winner (Stage 18 on Alpe d’Huez); Riblon also won the Tour’s Supercombativity Award.
Eventually, Sky took over at the front, but the pace remained relatively slow. When the peloton reached Paris, Froome allowed teammate Richie Porte to cross the finish line for the first of 10 circuits of the Arc de Triomphe. The British squad led the peloton until the end of the first circuit.
At the beginning of the second circuit, attacks began. Lars Boom (Belkin) was the first attacker to get clear. The Dutchman did not stay clear, and he was reeled in before the end of the circuit. A group containing Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge) and Tom Danielson (Garmin-Sharp) sallied off of the front, but the bunch reeled it in before it got far. Cavendish punctured, and most of his teammates dropped back to tow him back to the peloton.
With 50 km left, David Millar (Garmin-Sharp), Julien El Fares (Sojasun), Cameron Meyer (Orica-GreenEdge), and Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil-DCM) sallied off of the front. The quartet led the field by 0:15 with seven laps left. Millar and Flecha dropped their companions and stretched their advantage to 0:35 with six laps remaining.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Argos-Shimano went to the front and gradually cut the lead. Millar and Flecha were not collaborating well, so the Scot dropped the Spaniard with about 30 km to go. At this point, Millar’s lead was down to 0:10.
After dropping Flecha, Millar ran his lead up to 0:29. The peloton, however, was in no hurry. With about 20 km remaining and the gap between Millar and the bunch at about 0:25, Jeremy Roy (Francaise des Jeux) jumped out of the peloton and bridged up to the Garmin-Sharp man. Roy dropped Millar and was dropped in turn by Manuel Quinziato (BMC), Bram Tankink (Belkin), and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
Quinziato, Tankink, and Valverde led the field by 0:20 with 12 km to go and 0:15 with 10 km left. Cannondale had joined Omega Pharma-Quick Step and Argos-Shimano at the front.
At the beginning of the last lap, the break was reeled in. Sky and Saxo Bank-Tinkoff took turns at the front to keep their GC men out of trouble before turning things over to Lotto-Belisol with three km to go. One km later, Omega Pharma-Quick Step took command, with Cannondale, Argos-Shimano, and Lotto-Belisol hard on their heels.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step led the field into the last km. Argos-Shimano grabbed the lead, with Greipel on Kittel’s wheel and Cavendish on Greipel’s. With 200 m left, Kittel made his move. Greipel tried to pass his countryman on the left and Cavendish tried on the right, but Kittel held them off to win by about half a bike length.
The stage win was Kittel’s fourth of this Tour, and the German saw it as a tribute to the squad’s teamwork. "This is a dream come true," Kittel said. "It has been a hard three weeks but I felt OK today. The guys did a really good job keeping me out of the wind on the Champs Elysees and then set me up perfectly.
"The final sprint went perfectly to plan. Even though Tom Veelers wasn’t there we made a good plan and it worked. We changed the order of the lead-out and it worked out. They launched me perfectly and no-one came past me before the line.
"This is a superb victory and I have to thank my team, the team spirit has been amazing right since day one in Corsica. We were ready for today, even though the past three weeks have been tiring; everyone was really up for this final stage. Everybody believed in it and stayed focused right to the end. This is a dream come true."
Froome experienced the emotion that all Tour winners before him had. From the podium, the Sky man said, “I’d like to dedicate this win to my late mother. Without her encouragement to follow my dreams I would probably be at home watching this event on the TV. It’s a great shame she never got to come and see the Tour. But I’m sure she would be extremely proud if she was here tonight.
“This amazing journey would not be possible without the support I’ve received on and off the bike. I’d like to thank my team-mates who have buried themselves day in-day out, throughout this Tour to keep this yellow jersey on my shoulders. And the Team Sky management, for believing in my ability and building this team around me. Thank you to all the people who have taken their time to teach and mentor me over the years, to get me into this privileged position.
“Finally I’d like to thank my close friends and family, who have been there for me every step of the way - especially my fiancée Michelle who is here tonight. This is a beautiful country, with the finest annual sporting event on the planet. To win the 100th edition is an honour beyond any I’ve dreamed. This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time.”
In the overall, Froome finished 4:20 ahead of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and 5:04 ahead of Rodriguez. In the months to come, these riders and the other men of July will tackle other challenging races. The Clasica San Sebastian, the Vuelta a Espana, the World Championships, and the Giro di Lombardia lie before them. Check in at www.roadcycling.com to follow these races and others.
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