PARIS — After a 16 year drought, an Italian, Vincenzo Nibali has won the Tour de France on Sunday. He won the iconic race by chiselling a lead over his main rivals a few minutes at a time and then leaving them all in his wake in the mountains.
The 29-year-old Sicilian cyclist, who called himself “a flag-bearer of anti-doping” during the race, finished in the pack behind German Marcel Kittel, who won the prised final 21st stage on the Champs Elysée in a sprint finish.
The 2014 Tour was all set for a battle between the 2013 champion Chris Froome and two-time winner Alberto Contador, however, both crashed out with injuries in the first half of this year’s Tour leaving the Italian climber largely uncontested as he was clearly the strongest of the rest.
Astana team leader Nibali is only the sixth rider ever to win all three Grand Tours — France, Italy and Spain. The last Italian to win the Tour de France was Marco Pantani in 1998 just before the Lance Armstrong era.
Kittel was delighted with his 4th stage win while Nibali who also won 4 stages got pats on the back, kissed his wife and infant daughter, and was mobbed by cameras.
The last Tour winner to win 4 stages was Lance Armstrong who actually won five a decade ago. Incredibly, Nibali wore the yellow jersey for all but two stages since Stage 1. His 7 minute, 52 second margin over runner-up Jean-Christophe Peraud is the largest since Jan Ullrich of Germany beat second-placed Richard Virenque by just over 9 minutes in 1997.
Another piece of history in the making was Peraud and third-placed Thibaut Pinot who became the first Frenchmen to reach the Tour podium since Virenque in 1997.
It is difficult to compare further as Armstrong, Ullrich and Virenque were three of the big-name riders caught in nearly a generation of doping scandals in cycling.
Nibali and many others in the peloton say that a new era of clean cyclists has begun. However, his own victories in the 2010 Vuelta (Tour of Spain) and the Giro (Tour of Italy) in 2013 were tarnished by high-profile doping cases involving other riders. While cycling’s governing body is fighting hard to halt use of performance enhancing drugs, few cycling fans and observers believe the pack is fully clean yet.
While some may argue that Nibali was the best of the riders still in this Tour, the fact was he was in it and he won it. 2nd place in the 2013 Tour De France, Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, who also won this years Giro d’Italia back in May, did not ride. Much to the British public’s disgust and his own, Bradley Wiggins, the 2012 Tour champ, was passed over so his Sky Team could focus on Froome. Then Froome and Contador pulled out due to injuries and Richie Port failed to live up to expectations to salvage the Tour for Team Sky.
But even before the two hot favourites left, Nibali had gained a 2-second advantage on them by winning Stage 2, surprising even himself. Then, in Stage 5 after Froome crashed out, the Italian roared off on the cobblestones and put 2 and 1/2 minutes into Contador.
On a long downhill in Stage 10, Contador crashed and fractured his tibia. Contador did try to continue but had to pull out a few km further on as the pain was too great for him to bear. Nibali, who is known as “The Shark of the Strait” — went on to win the stage into La Planche des Belles Filles. It was the first of three stages with uphill finishes that he won, adding one in the Alps (Chamrousse) and another in the Pyrenees (Hautacam).
Nibali said the 2014 edition of the Tour was pretty much made for him.
The 101st edition began in Yorkshire, England, and guided riders over 3,664 kilometers (2,277 miles) including cobblestones, wind-swept flats and climbs in the Vosges, Alps and Pyrenees.
With the Arc de Triomphe in Paris as the final showdown, other riders on the winner’s podium included Peter Sagan of Slovakia, who won the sprinters green jersey; Rafal Majka of Poland, claimed the best climber Jersey and Pinot, the white Jersey for the best young rider born since the start of 1989.
Hopefully there will be no drug bombshells post the Tour De France and we can look forward to an exciting star studded Vuelta in September this year.