PARIS (AP) — Chris Froome won the 100th Tour de France on Sunday, having dominated rivals over three weeks on the road and adroitly dealt with doping suspicions off it.
In two years, Britain has now had two different winners: Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and then Froome, a cooler, calmer, more understated but no less determined character than his Sky teammate with famous sideburns.
Froome rode into Paris in style — in the canary yellow race leader’s jersey he took on Stage 8 in the Pyrenees and never relinquished, vigorously fending off rivals whose concerted challenges turned this Tour into a thriller. Froome and his Sky teammates linked arms as they rode for the line.
The 100th edition was visually stunning, too, starting with a first-ever swing through Corsica, France’s so-called “island of beauty,” before veering through the Pyrenees to Brittany and then across France to the race’s crescendo in the Alps — 3,404 grueling kilometers (2,115 miles) in total.
Uniquely, the 100th Tour treated itself to a late-afternoon start for its final Stage 21 so the riders raced a few hours later on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees as the sun cast golden hues over the peloton and the shadows lengthened over the dense, cheering crowds.
French Air Force jets in formation trailed red, white and blue smoke in the skies about the leafy avenue as the peloton powered up it for the first time and, exceptionally, circled like a necklace around the Arc de Triomphe in their brightly colored team jerseys.
After setting off from the magnificent Versailles Palace, the former residence of three kings and their seat of power until the French revolution of 1789, the riders were granted the privilege of meandering through the chateau’s manicured gardens, past lakes like mirrors, spurting fountains and statues looking on stonily.
As per tradition and because Froome’s big race lead made him untouchable, Sunday’s 133-kilometer (82-mile) final ride was a largely leisurely affair until the pace picked up sharply on the Champs-Elysees. Marcel Kittel won the final sprint on that famous avenue, the German’s sprinter’s fourth stage win of this Tour.
Riders pedaled up to Froome to offer congratulations; he sipped from a flute of champagne as he rode; a Tour organizer stuck an arm from his car window to shake Froome’s hand. Peter Sagan colored his beard green to celebrate the green jersey he won for picking up the most points in sprints over the three weeks.
“It’s a dream to arrive in yellow on the Champs-Elysees,” Froome said before leading the pack from Versailles. “C’est formidable.”
His efforts to speak French have been gratefully noted by TV commentators here.
Nairo Quintana, the 23-year-old Colombian who secured second place behind Froome with an impressive win on Saturday’s penultimate Stage 20, laughed as third-placed Joaquim Rodriguez tried to spark up a cigar in the saddle. The wind seemed to snuff out his lighter.
Neither Froome, Quintana nor Rodriguez have ever failed a drug test or been directly implicated in any of cycling’s litany of doping scandals. That is an encouraging and notable departure both from the era of Lance Armstrong and many other Tour podiums before and since.
Froome’s clear physical superiority made him overwhelming favorite going into the Tour and carried him through it. His winning margin of more than 5 minutes was the largest since 1997, when Jan Ullrich — who has since admitted to doping — beat Richard Virenque — who also confessed to using performance-enhancers — by 9 minutes and 9 seconds.
Armstrong had larger margins of victory than Froome but all seven of the Texan’s wins were stripped from him last year for serial doping. In the Tour’s official history book, his name has literally been crossed out.
As the first Tour champion since that shockwave, Froome rode through a barrage of doubt and skepticism, especially since his strength in the mountains and time trials reminded some observers of Armstrong and the way he and his team used to suffocate the race.
Froome’s three stage victories — in the Pyrenees, on Mont Ventoux in Provence and in a mountainous trial — were the most for a Tour winner since Armstrong got five in 2004, results now annulled.
Unlike some other riders who cut short questions about doping and bristled, Froome said he was happy to discuss the issue that has so poisoned his sport. He insisted he rode clean and said he, too, felt let down by his cheating predecessors.
Froome argued that his success demonstrates that cycling’s anti-doping system — now among the most rigorous, invasive and sustained of any sport — must be working, because otherwise he wouldn’t be able to win.
At 28, Froome is entering his peak years as a bike racer. His prowess on climbs and in time trials gives him the essential ingredients to win more Tours. At Sky, he’s backed by one of the best-funded, organized and smartest teams.
With few exceptions, including the absent Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali and Wiggins, the cream of cycling’s grand tour riders raced in the 100th edition. That Froome beat them so handily suggests he’ll again be the overwhelming favorite in 2014 — in the 101st Tour that starts in Leeds, northern England.
Scottish rider David Millar, who completed his 12th Tour on Sunday, said one of Froome’s strengths is that he is able to handle the very intense training needed to win the Tour without getting burned out by it.
“There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be. I think the sport’s harder than it’s ever been. In order to win, especially in the manner in which Chris has done it, with the training … You know, he doesn’t really get time off. It’s very demanding physically and psychologically. But I’m not sure how long anybody can do that for,” Millar said. “He’s very Zen-like. I think that’s his big advantage. That’s the kind of juxtaposition he has. He has that ability to operate at a very high level, say scientifically, but stay serene and Zen-like. Whereas other guys, they don’t have that ability to switch off.”
Froome also had the sprinkling of good luck riders need to win the Tour. He only grazed his knee when he hit a curb and fell at the start of the Tour, on Stage 1, and he avoided a pile-up that fractured the pelvis of his teammate, Geraint Thomas, who gritted his teeth and continued to Paris.
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire in Paris contributed.