Because of the unique late afternoon start for the final Stage 21, the riders raced on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees as the sun cast golden hues over the peloton and shadows lengthened over the dense, cheering crowds.
Marcel Kittel won the final sprint on the avenue, the German’s sprinter’s fourth stage win of the Tour.
French Air Force jets in formation trailed red, white and blue smoke in the skies. The riders circled like a necklace around the Arc de Triomphe in their bright 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.
Before the pace picked up sharply on the Champs-Elysees, Sunday’s 133km ride was largely leisurely. The 169 finishers — from 198 who started — savored the pleasure of surviving the three-week ordeal.
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 Rodriguez tried to spark up a cigar in the saddle.
Froome’s clear physical superiority made him overwhelming favorite going into the Tour and carried him through it. His winning margin of 4 minutes, 20 seconds 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, 9 seconds.
Armstrong had larger margins of victory than Froome, but those no longer count.
Froome’s three stage victories — in the Pyrenees, on Mont Ventoux in Provence and in a mountainous time trial — were the most for a Tour winner since Armstrong got five in 2004, results now annulled.
Sky Pro Cycling team manager Dave Brailsford said the Tour is seeing “a new generation” of young riders who “have never lived in an era of doping.”
Cycling’s future “is in good hands with Chris, because he is an exceptional rider and an exceptional character,” Brailsford said.
Unlike some other riders who cut short questions about doping and bristled, Froome said he was happy during the Tour to discuss the issue that has so poisoned his sport. He 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 would not 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 is 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 will again be the overwhelming favorite next year — in the 101st Tour that starts in Leeds, northern England.