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Au revoir au Tour de France

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Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali sips Champagne on the final stage going into Paris (Image metronews.fr)

The Tour de France is over and Lachlan Barker gives a wrap of the final stages of a terrific and scandal-free event.

SO, WE FINALLY MADE IT to Paris.

The Tour de France’s 101st edition had covered 3,664 kilometres and ran through four countriesEngland, Belgium, Spain and of course France.

The race was won by Vincenzo Nibalithe Shark of Messina – riding for team Astana.

Nibali showed power and courage for the whole race and was a deserved winner.

With two major pre-race favourites – Chris Froome of team Sky and Alberto Contador of team Tinkoff-Saxocrashing out early – there was some talk of Nibali having it easy and, if those two were still in the race, it would indeed have been closer.

However, when these two favourites left the race, Nibali was going strongly and got stronger as the epic continued.

He really cemented life in yellow in The Pyrenees when he won stage 18 from Pau to Hautacam.

What showed the race for yellow was over from this stage on was when Nibali went past Sky’s Mikel Nieve with a kilometre to go.

Nieve is no slouch on the mountains, but Nibali went passed him like he was standing still.

Considering this was the third last stage and Nibali had already 3,000 km under his wheels, it was an emphatic display of power.

Added to which, The Hautacam, upon which he went blistering by Nieve is categorised “HC”.

In the Tour there are four numeric categories for climbs, 1, 2, 3, and 4 — with four being the easiest and one the hardest.

Beyond that is “HC”.

Here is the definition  from Wikipedia:

'Hors catégorie is a French term used in cycle races to designate a climb that is "beyond categorization", or an incredibly tough climb.'

So, sailing by in this fashion on the flat would have raised an eyebrow; doing it on The Hautacam was phenomenal.

Likewise, on this mountain stage, the King of the Mountains Jersey was settled, with Poland’s Rafal Majka of team Tinkoff-Saxo  gaining the shirt and keeping it for the rest of the way to Paris.

Majka finished third on this stage and by doing so took the Polka-Dotted Jersey from his main rival Joachim Rodriguez of team Katusha.

Once the riders came down out of the mountains, there then ran a transition stage across the south western corner of France to the site of the individual time trial leg.

This stage was largely downhill and, as such, was laughably titled a “day off”.

That is with none of the Jerseys up for grabs, the leaders in each category didn’t go hard, but just kept their place in the Peloton.

For us hopelessly buckle-legged weekend cyclists, this is laughable because the winner’s average speed for the day was 44.1kph, over a distance of 208.5 km.

For the rest of us, averaging 30 km for “a” kilometre is good going.

This stage – the 19th – was won by Ramunas Navardauskas of Garmin-Sharp.

So then came the 20th andpenultimate stage — the individual time trial.

There is never a sure thing in sport, but this stage came close to being so, with the raging pre-trial favourite being current world time trial champion Tony Martin of team Omega Pharma Quick-Step.

Martin then duly went out and followed the script by screaming home over the 54k course in one hour, six minutes and 21 seconds an average speed of 46.7k.

However both Navardauskas and Martin were well down on the overall standings and, as such, these two stages had no effect on the final placings.

So, the great day dawned and the riders set off on final stage — the 21st.

This stage began in the fields outside Paris at the village of Evry.

The first part of the journey is largely ceremonial, with the riders pausing for photos by the travelling press and the winner, Nibali, and his team mates from Astana, drinking the customary glass of champagne whilst on their bikes.

The stage sets off with the winners of each jersey leading the race and so a four man wide vanguard took the race onto the road.

Nibali was in Yellow, while Majka sported the Polka-Dotted Jersey, France’s Thibaut Pinot of FDJ won the White Jersey for best young rider – the rider below the age of 25 who finishes highest in the standings – while perennial character, Slovakia’s Peter Sagan of Cannondale, wore the Green, Sprinter’s,  Jersey.

This last stage only begins to race once the riders enter the Champs-Elysees itself.

Here, the last 56 kilometres are played out over eight laps of the famous boulevard.

It’s a sprinter’s stage in the end, and was won by German rider Marcel Kittel of Giant-Shimano, with Katusha’s Norwegian sprinter Alexander Kristoff second.

However, Sagan had already wrapped up the Green Jersey many stages ago and so this final result didn’t affect the sprinter’s standings.

Once again, it was a great thing to be a part of, even if only vicariously through my TV screen.

As the rolling game of chess played out over the mountains and flats and the brilliant countryside flashed by, it was enriching stuff.

Twelve million people watched from the roadside last year and, while the figures are not in yet for this year’s event, one can only conjecture that the numbers will be similar.

While the best thing of all – and I think I can speak for cycling fans everywhere on this – was that this year’s event was not tainted by a drug scandal.

Nibali was constantly asked about this, with there being some undercurrent commenting along the lines of the last person who was so dominant was Lance Armstrong.

Added to which, the team manager for Nibali’s team, Astana, Alexander Vinokourov, was himself ejected from the Tour as a rider for a positive doping test in the 2007 event.

But Nibali was gracious in his handling of these comments, and said

"I've always been a standard-bearer for anti-doping.”

With the longitudinal testing that is now done – the riders are tested all through the year and have to carry an anti-doping passport – one feels that cycling is really doing everything they can to eradicate the scourge of drugs from its sport.

So, the world’s most watched annual sporting event is over for another year, with Nibali a worthy (and hopefully) drug free winner.

And, for me, and all those other late night watchers of this great race (52,000 a night recorded by one ratings website), it’s all about the punch line Jack Thompson used in an ad for an alcohol-free drink in the seventies:

Now we can all get some sleep.”

Read more by Lachlan Barker at cyclonecharlie88.blogspot.com.au and follow him on Twitter@cyclonecharlie8.

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