PARIS (Reuters) - Chris Froome crossed the Champs Elysees finish line arm in arm with his beaming team mates on Sunday to win the 100th Tour de France and hand Britain a second successive triumph in cycling’s biggest race.
In three weeks of racing, the Kenyan-born rider dominated in the mountains and time trials and fought off the inevitable innuendo that has long accompanied an event tainted by a string of doping scandals.
Froome was untroubled on the 21st and final stage, a 133.5-km ride from Versailles which ended in an evening sprint giving German Marcel Kittel his fourth stage win as the sun set on Paris.
The Briton led Colombia’s Nairo Quintana by four minutes and 20 seconds in the overall standings, with Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez third, a further 44 seconds back.
“This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time,” Froome said in his podium speech, in a reference to the many doping scandals the sport has struggled with.
Froome is the first Tour champion to be crowned since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles for doping and some of the 28-year-old’s performances in the 2013 race were inevitably greeted with suspicion.
“I’m glad I’ve had to face those questions - after all the revelations of the last year. I’m glad that’s been channeled towards me,” Froome told ITV television.
“I’ve been able to deal with it. Cycling has changed - the peloton is standing together.”
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford, anticipating the skepticism around the Tour in the wake of the Armstrong scandal, said: “When you think about the future of cycling, you see that it is in good hands with Chris.
“He is an outstanding man. I have no doubt on his victory. We are in a transition period with all these young riders who have not lived the doping era.”
Froome follows on from compatriot and team mate Bradley Wiggins, who sat out of this year’s race for health reasons.
He built his success on awe-inspiring attacks in the mountain climbs as well as his time-trialing ability. It quickly became clear that his rivals would have to fight for the other podium positions.
“Crossing the line with the guys brought tears to my eyes. I expected it to be big but this is something else,” Froome said.
“I think it is going to take a while to really sink in. This has been a spectacular race.”
“What a great team,” Australian Richie Porte, Froome’s lieutenant, told reporters. “The Tour is always special, we saw it last year with Brad. It was probably harder this year, it’s incredible.”
In keeping with Tour tradition, Froome sipped champagne with Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford and sports director Nicolas Portal as the peloton left the Chateau de Versailles in the late afternoon at a leisurely pace.
Quintana claimed both the polka-dot best climber’s jersey and the white jersey for the best young rider.
Rodriguez, who lit a cigar shortly after the start, became the second rider to finish on the podium on all the grand Tours (France, Spain, Italy) without actually winning one.
Alberto Contador, the 2007 and 2009 champion, finished fourth after cracking on Saturday’s penultimate stage.
The Spaniard, however, had his moment on the podium on the Champs Elysees as he won the team classification with Saxo-Tinkoff.
France’s Christophe Riblon, who won the spectacular l’Alpe d’Huez mountain stage, was named the most aggressive rider in the race.
Peter Sagan of Slovakia, retained the green jersey for the points classification and had dyed his hair and goatee beard to match it.
Kittel came out on top in a three-way sprint finish to the line, edging ahead of compatriot Andre Greipel and Britain’s Mark Cavendish who was looking for his fifth straight final-stage win.
“Once again thanks to my team mates, it’s a collective effort,” said Kittel.
Cavendish conceded he was beaten by a stronger rider.
“Kittel was faster. I did 1,500 watts and usually when I do 1,500 watts I win by a few bike lengths,” he said.
Lieuwe Westra became the first rider to abandon the Tour on the Champs Elysees since 1977.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Alison Wildey and Toby Davis