The 2014 Tour de France ended in a mass sprint on Sunday, as expected, with Vincenzo Nibali winning his very first Tour de France.
As for the day's race, none of the leaders were ever troubled. Germany's Marcel Kittel won Stage 21 on the iconic Champs-Elysees to take his tally to four stage wins, while Peter Sagan took his third consecutive green jersey.
|2||Alexander Kristoff||Katyusha||Same Time|
|6||Berhnard Eisel||Team Sky||st|
The road from Evry to Paris was one long celebration for the peloton, with the winners in every classification already determined. Event organisers congratulated overall winner Nibali right from the start, via the Tour's official Twitter account:
The four riders in the top jerseys (Nibali, Sagan, Rafal Majka and Thibaut Pinot) gathered for the traditional photos before cracking open the champagne, per ITV Sport:
Nibali gets the champers in pic.twitter.com/J10szGdKKe— ITV Cycling (@itvcycling) July 27, 2014
With two French riders on the podium, the home crowds had plenty to celebrate. Things got even better when it became clear AG2R would emerge victorious in the team classification:
Not a single rider attempted to make a break before the pack arrived in Paris. The sprint teams took over from Astana at the head of the peloton as it became clear everyone was gunning for one final mass sprint.
Once the pack passed the gates of Paris, however, the race truly heated up.
Unsurprisingly, it was a French rider who started proceedings. Experienced veteran Sylvain Chavanel likely never expected to really break from the peloton, but his burst and (minimal) lead on the Champs-Elysees sent the local fans into delirium.
Dozens of riders tried to attack in the first round on the Paris track, with Jens Voigt and Christian Meier having most success early.
A big crash took place in the background, claiming several riders of AG2R, including the GC's No. 2, Jean-Christophe Peraud. The Guardian's William Fotheringham could hear the collective gasp of the French fans:
Chute for Peraud. France holds its breath.— William Fotheringham (@willfoth) July 27, 2014
Yellow jersey holder Nibali made his voice heard, however, telling the peloton to wait for the Frenchman. Peraud's teammates helped overcome the 22-second gap quickly, but as soon as that train returned, the attacks continued.
The leading group of Chavanel never truly escaped the grasp of the peloton, who kept the pace high throughout the final 30 kilometres, looking for the sprint. Alexander Kristoff and Mark Renshaw both saw their preparations hindered because of mechanical issues, but it didn't stop them from finding strong positions in time.
Belgian football star and Chelsea winger Eden Hazard had an excellent vantage point as the peloton went into the final round:
The sprint trains organised themselves in the final five kilometres, and a mass sprint seemed as inevitable as it did at the start of the stage. Omega Pharma-Quick Step took control of the peloton and kept the pace high for Renshaw, with the likes of Kristoff and Bryan Coquard sitting in the Australian's wheel.
Giant-Shimano were forced to open very early, and it seemed like Kittel would be overtaken by Kristoff before the line. The German found a second gear, however, winning his fourth stage of the 2014 Tour de France.
|2||Jean Christophe Peraud||AG2R||+7:52|
|5||Tejay van Garderen||BMC||+11:44|
|9||Laurens ten Dam||Belkin||+18:20|
|9||Greg van Avermaet||BMC||153|
|6||Alessandro De Marchi||Cannondale||78|
|10||Tejay van Garderen||BMC||48|
Winner Nibali told VeloNews.com his win in the Vuelta a Espana was the most important mental victory of his career, but the Tour was undoubtedly the biggest:
For me the Vuelta was the most important because it showed me that I could aim to win big tours like the Giro and the Tour in the following years.
As an Italian it’s obvious that for me the Giro is very important but it’s also special for the Italian fans. But what makes the Tour so much bigger is the international attention it demands. It’s different, it’s bigger, it’s more beautiful.
The level of competition is also higher than the others, although I had great rivals in both the Giro and the Vuelta. ... I’ve taken my place in the history of the Tour and that’s very important, but those others also made their names in other great races, such as the classics
Cycling legend Greg LeMond spoke about Nibali's performance following the stage, via Peloton magazine:
LeMond to Nibali on Eurosport: You would've been No. 1 even with Froome and Contador here. #TdF— peloton magazine (@pelotonmagazine) July 27, 2014
The next major appointment on the cycling calendar will be the Vuelta a Espana, the last of the three main stage races of the season.
Chris Froome will be eyeing this year's edition as the perfect opportunity to salvage his season, and with Alberto Contador still recovering from injury, the Brit should be the overwhelming favourite when the Vuelta starts in four weeks.
France will celebrate the excellent performance of Pinot, who greatly impressed during this year's Tour. The 24-year-old Frenchman was more than capable in the high mountains and held his own during the time trial. Pinot will be the face of a new generation of French cyclists and the nation's best chance at breaking a Tour drought that has lasted almost three decades.