Chris Froome crossed the line arm-in-arm with his Team Sky team-mates as he joined the elite club of three-time Tour de France winners yesterday.
Froome, already Britain’s only multiple-Tour winner, is now one of just eight men – not counting the disgraced Lance Armstrong –to have won three or more Tours, and will have his sights set on record five-time winners Jacques Anquetil, Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx.
Froome had been able to enjoy a glass of champagne and a sip of beer on the 113km stage from Chantilly, won on the Champs-Elysees by Andre Greipel, before he met his wife Michelle and baby boy Kellan just after the finish line and the celebrations began in earnest.
In his podium speech, Froome thanked his team and family before paying tribute to the victims of the terrorist attack in Nice on Bastille Day, midway through the Tour.
“This tour has obviously taken place against the backdrop of terrible events in Nice and we pay our respects, once again, to those who lost their lives in this terrible event,” he said.
“Of course these kind of events put sport into perspective, but they also show why the values of sport are so important to free society.
“We all love the Tour de France because it is unpredictable, but we love the Tour more for what stays the same – the passion of the fans from every nation along the roadside, the beauty of the French countryside and the bonds of friendship created through sport.
“These things will never change. Vive (long live) le Tour et vive la France.”
The 31-year-old had effectively sealed victory by staying upright on Saturday’s stage 20 to Morzine ahead of Sunday’s largely processional stage.
Froome finished the race with a margin of victory of four minutes and five seconds ahead of AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet, only the third Frenchman in 20 years to finish second as the race awaits its first home winner since Hinault in 1985.
“It’s a big moment,” Bardet said. “My joy is enormous, for me and for the team, but I’m yet to realise what happened.”
German Greipel, also the winner in Paris 12 months ago, pipped the late-charging world champion Peter Sagan to the line in the traditional sprint on the Champs-Elysees after racing clear of Norway’s Alexander Kristoff on the run-in.
French hope Bryan Coquard was denied the chance to go for victory as he was held up by a late puncture, while Marcel Kittel also suffered a mechanical in the closing stages and was unable to contest the sprint.
Kristoff attacked first but Greipel, with his Lotto-Soudal lead-out train doing its job on the final approach, burst clear to make sure he did not leave this Tour empty-handed.
“I can’t describe it,” said Greipel. “I’m just super proud of what we’ve achieved (yesterday). I’ve raced for three weeks for that. The team kept believing in me.
“We’ve tried many times and we walk away from the Tour with two stage wins, with Thomas De Gendt and myself. (Yesterday morning) we had a good plan. There was a head wind at the end. I just tried to stay calm.
“Once we hit the finale, we were one guy too short so I chose to follow Alexander Kristoff, who was the strongest. But this is another stage win at the Tour de France. It’s wonderful.”
While Froome was confirmed as the overall winner, Tinkoff’s Sagan wrapped up his fifth straight victory in the points classification.
The 23-year-old Briton Adam Yates of Orica-BikeExchange took the white jersey as the best young rider in the race – the first Briton to win the category – while Sagan’s team-mate Rafal Majka was confirmed in the king of the mountains’ polka-dot jersey.
Nairo Quintana was third overall, four minutes and 21 seconds behind Froome, while Yates was fourth, a further 21 seconds back.
German time trial specialist Tony Martin withdrew midway through the stage with a knee problem, which will be a concern ahead of the Olympics. His withdrawal left the race with 174 finishers out of the 198 starters – a record, beating the previous mark of 170 set in 2010.
Irish sprinter Sam Bennett was ninth on the day, but remained the lanterne rouge, dead last on the general classification and a whopping five hours, 17 minutes and 14 seconds behind Froome.
With three wins out of the last four Tours – the exception being when he crashed out in 2014 – Froome has established himself as the dominant force in the race.
Once Froome took yellow on stage eight, there was rarely a moment he looked in danger – and when he did it was down to crashes on Mont Ventoux and on the approach to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc rather than the actions of others. The strength of Team Sky was critical, with Froome particularly indebted to the performance of Dutchman Wout Poels.
“Froome’s team-mates are stronger than his rivals,” said the great Eddy Merckx.
“You see the riders behind him and I don’t know who can beat him next year.”