The 2013 Tour de France finished the same way it began, with a stage win to rising star Marcel Kittel of Argos-Shimano.
The young German showed that he is the next big thing in sprinting as he denied Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) a fifth straight win on the Champs-Elysees.
Kittel’s Argos-Shimano team-mates got their lead-out almost perfect, and when he hit the front with 100 metres to go – perhaps just a fraction too early – he still had a lot of work to do.
On his wheel was Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) and Cavendish was sitting right behind Greipel, but Kittel didn’t look back as he powered on to a fourth stage victory in this Tour, with Greipel edging out Cavendish in a photo finish.
Kittel’s win in the twilight of Paris was another highlight in the 100th Tour de France, but the day really belonged to Chris Froome (Sky).
By making Paris safely, Froome was confirmed as the winner of this year’s Tour.
Froome’s final margin of 4’20” over second placed Nairo Quintana (Movistar) looks comfortable enough, but it wasn’t always the case.
He was isolated in the Pyrenees and had to deliberately violate race rules and send teammate Richie Porte back to get him food on the second climb of Alpe d’Huez on Stage 18 as he hit the hunger wall.
Still, his lead was so large in the end that he chose to slip off the back of the peloton with his Sky teammates on today’s stage in order to cross the line as one with linked arms.
The move cost him 53 seconds in the overall classification, but the size of the final margin mattered little, this was about Froome celebrating with the guys who, at the end of the day, did a brilliant job keeping him in yellow throughout this year’s race.
There were also the relentless allegations of doping. Whether or not history proves these allegations to be founded remains to be seen, but Froome has handled the constant questioning with aplomb.
In his victory speech, Froome stated emphatically that this is a yellow jersey that will stand the tests of time. He also said that the peloton has changed, and they won’t stand for the things they used to accept as normal in the past.
Froome dedicated the victory to his late mother, saying without her support in the early days he’d probably be at home watching it on TV like everyone else.
Whatever your opinion on Froome, you have to admire the way he’s raced this Tour, and the way he’s handled the constant questioning and speculation as to the extents Sky will go to for what they call marginal gains.
It’s been a grueling 3 weeks of racing, but there can be no doubt that Froome was indeed the strongest man. Whilst you can’t underestimate the contribution of his team-mates, Richie Porte in particular, the only man in the peloton who looked capable of matching Froome in the high mountains was the young Colombian Nairo Quintana.
Quintana won the King of the Mountains Classification and the Young Riders Classification, and at just 23 years of age, his future looks incredibly bright.
As good as Froome is, in Quintana we have someone that can realistically mount a serious challenge for Froome’s title at next year’s Tour, with the likes of Alberto Contador (Saxo Tinkoff), Andy Schleck (Radioshack Leopard Trek) and Cadel Evans (BMC) all seemingly going backwards with age.
Froome is only 28 years old, so his best is arguably still to come, but with Quintana and the likes of Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), Teejay van Garderen (BMC) and Roman Kreuziger (Saxo Tinkoff) all showing signs that they can compete at the highest level, Froome may never find winning a Grand Tour this easy again.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) took third place in this year’s tour, 5’04” behind Froome, with Rodriguez now having finished on the podium in all three Grand Tours. At 34 years of age, his chance to win one may just have passed him by.
Despite Kittel’s four stage wins, Peter Sagan (Cannondale) showed enough all round ability to win the Points Classification, even dying his hair and goatee beard green to celebrate his achievement.
The twilight finish on the Champs-Elysees was a stunning backdrop to what has been a thoroughly entertaining 100th edition of the Tour de France. The amazing audio-visual light show on the Arc de Triomphe had to be seen to be believed, while the fluorescent sequined yellow jersey adorned by Chris Froome was certainly an unusual idea that perhaps didn’t work out as well as hoped.
What a race it’s been, what a celebration it’s going to be tonight, and though we’ve only just crossed the finish line in Paris, I’m already counting down the days to next year.