The 2014 Tour de France came to a close on Sunday in Paris on the Champs-Elysees as Italy's Vincenzo Nibali claimed one of the most convincing victories of recent times.
The Astana rider eventually triumphed by almost eight minutes to second-placed Jean Christophe Peraud in a thrilling performance which saw him win four stages over the three weeks.
While his main rivals Chris Froome and Alberto Contador were both forced to abandon the race early on due to injury, Nibali's performance was imperious throughout and his victory well deserved.
Here are the final standings in the general classification 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|
Let's take a look at the winner's performance over the 21 stages as well as examining a couple of the other top finishers in the Tour.
The Italian joined an elite group of riders on Sunday who have won all three Grand Tours—the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana—a feat matched by only five others.
He was impressive from the outset in the 2014 Tour, winning Stage 2 in Sheffield to claim the yellow jersey, and he barely let it go throughout the race, per BBC Cambs Sport:
Nibali won stage two in Sheffield to claim the yellow jersey, and has held the lead for all but one day since. #letour— BBC Cambs Sport (@BBCCambsSport) July 27, 2014
He was wonderful over the much-feared cobbles in Stage 5 as he showed his grit in awful conditions while many others—including Contador—struggled and Froome abandoned before even reaching the dreaded sections.
He constantly looked to attack, always riding at the front of the peloton, and he showed in both the Alps and the Pyrenees—where he won a stage in each—that nobody could match him on the climbs, per the Sunday Times' David Walsh:
People say anything can still happen. Nibali's got more than 3.30 on his nearest rival, he's the strongest climber. He will win the Tour.— David Walsh (@DavidWalshST) July 18, 2014
It was a fantastic victory of sustained excellence—he never looked troubled and did not crash—and one which he claimed incredibly early on as the rest of the field effectively played for second.
Jean Christophe Peraud
Talking of second, Ag2R's Peraud came through as the eventual runner-up with fellow countryman Thibaut Pinot in third, giving the French their first podium finishers since 1997.
The 37-year-old did fantastically well to hold off his 24-year-old compatriot and claim the second spot, as Pinot was mightily impressive for much of the Tour and looks a star of the future.
For a man in his late 30s, Peraud's achievement in 2014 will likely never be bettered, and he seemed overwhelmed by his achievement when his second place was confirmed after the time-trial of Stage 20 per the Wall Street Journal's Joshua Robinson:
Jean-Christophe Peraud, 37-year-old Frenchman who just finished 2nd in the #TDF, can't even speak right now through the tears of joy.— Joshua Robinson (@JoshRobinson23) July 26, 2014
Going into the penultimate stage, Peraud sat third to Pinot but was impressively calm in overcoming the younger rider's lead despite a puncture.
An impressive performance and one which will be cherished by an entire country who also have the exploits of Pinot to look forward to in years to come.
For Alejandro Valverde, it was a very disappointing Tour as he just missed out on a podium spot having held second place for much of the three weeks.
He struggled late on in the Pyrenees as the Frenchmen overtook him, but he was expected to reclaim his podium place in the penultimate time-trial.
However, he was below par on the day and the Movistar rider was clearly disappointed despite his best-ever Tour finish, per Alasdair Fotheringham of CyclingNews.com:
I did what I could but the legs just weren’t there. I wanted to get on the podium, but it just wasn’t possible. I knew what the time references were and that I wasn’t getting any closer to the top three, but my body was just saying "no".
Indeed, VeloNews' Andrew Hood marked Valverde's failure to finish in the top three as the biggest disappointment of the Tour:
Lots of disappointments in this Tour, but none more than Valverde; chance of lifetime to reach podium, but had "piernas de plomo" in TT— Andrew Hood (@EuroHoody) July 27, 2014
The Spaniard seemed to fade towards the latter stages of the race and was spent come the time-trial which eventually crushed his podium ambitions.
While there were those whose Tour ended in triumph, Valverde's experience is testament to the crushing blows that can be dealt by cycling's toughest challenge.