Vincenzo Nibali fought back the tears as he stood on the Tour de France winner’s podium and described the moment as better than he ever expected.
Nibali completed his victory at this year’s Tour by finishing safely in the peloton in Sunday’s 21st and final stage from Evry to Paris, won by Germany’s Marcel Kittel.
“It’s the most important and the best moment, I never imagined it could feel this good because when you find yourself on this podium on the Champs-Elysees, it’s unique,” said Nibali, reading a prepared statement. “Now that I’m here it’s even better than I imagined. I fought for this every day, I started building from a long way out with a winter preparation with the team because we had decided this was our objective. Some people might think it’s normal, but I want to thank my [Astana] team because when you achieve an objective, you do so together, not just those here with me, but also those back in Italy. It’s a success that I want to dedicate to all the staff in the team and to my family — my wife, Rachelle, and my daughter, Emma. If it hadn’t been for my parents, who have supported me since the beginning, then I wouldn’t have been here. I’ve never felt more emotional in my career.”
After crossing the finish line, Nibali went straight up to his wife and baby to embrace both.
By winning the final stage, German sprint king Kittel matched Nibali’s achievement of winning four stages on this year’s Tour.
The Giant-Shimano sprinter equaled his feat from last year when he also won four stages — including both the first and last — and wore the maillot jaune for a day on stage two.
In the final sprint he initially looked to have been caught and passed by Alexander Kristoff of Katusha, before finding a second wind to power through and win.
Norwegian Kristoff, who won two previous stages, finished second with Lithuania’s Ramunas Navardauskas of Garmin-Sharp, who also claimed a stage, coming third.
“It was actually my strategy for the sprint,” Kittel said. “I was meant to start not too early so when Kristoff passed me he had already had a little more time to accelerate and gain more speed. That was the reason why I was a bit behind him, but then I could really start my sprint and accelerate, and I noticed the moment when Kristoff couldn’t go faster any more. That was the moment to pass him again. It was close, there was a moment I thought it really wasn’t enough at the end, but I’m super happy.”
Kittel, 26, paid tribute to his leadout team, who put him in the position to win with 300m left.
“It’s incredible, I’m really proud of all the team. The guys worked really hard today, they put me in a perfect position,” he said. “It’s been a great Tour in our team, and I don’t forget my teammate [Cheng Ji] who fell, but we’ll celebrate tonight.”
The day’s events started, as ever for the processional final stage, at a pedestrian pace as Nibali sipped champagne with his teammates and posed for photographs with the other jersey winners.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan of Cannondale Pro Cycling won the sprinters’ maillot vert for the third year in a row, while Poland’s Rafal Majka of Tinkoff-Saxo claimed the king of the mountains maillot a pois rouges.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot of FDJ.fr won the young riders’ maillot blanc and also finished third overall, behind compatriot Jean-Christophe Peraud of AG2R La Mondiale.
While Ji, who crashed on the cobbles along the Champs Elysees and was even lapped as the peloton made eight circuits around the famous Parisian avenue, achieved more than just becoming the first Chinese rider to compete at and indeed finish a Tour.
He came 164th and last, but also managed the largest gap between first and last since 1954, finishing 6 hours 2 minutes, 24 seconds behind Nibali.
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