The 29-year-old Sicilian, who rides for the Astana Pro Team, beat France’s Jean-Christophe Péraud of the Ag2r-La Mondiale team by 7 minutes and 37 seconds. In third was another Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot of the FDJ.fr team, 8 minutes and 15 seconds back. The top U.S. rider was Tejay van Garderen of BMC Racing, 11 minutes and 24 seconds behind in fifth.
“I’ve taken my place in the history of the Tour and that’s very important,” Nibali told the AFP. “It’s the most important and the best moment — I never imagined it could feel this good.”
Nibali added he would never have come even close to winning the Tour if it were not for improved doping tests. “Steps have been taken and great progress has been made and with it so my results have arrived,” he said. “I have to thank [the doping controllers] because without these iron controls maybe I wouldn’t be here today.”
The Tour started on July 5 with three stages in England before heading to France. This year’s race was marked by the early withdrawals of favourites Britain’s Chris Froome (Sky Pro Cycling) and Spain’s Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), both of whom crashed out in the first 10 days. Along the way, spectators with smartphones made headlines as they nearly caused riders to crash and almost took out the race leader.
Here’s a breakdown of how Nibali won the 101st edition of the Tour:
He Attacked Early And Often
Nibali let his rivals know early on that he was at the Tour to win. Stage 2 finished with a select group charging into Sheffield; it included overall favourites Froome, Contador, and Van Garderen. Nibali, aka the Shark, launched a beautifully timed attack in the closing kilometers and powered his way to the finish line solo.
He was already well known for his astute tactics; this move showed he’d brought super legs to the big show too. He found himself in the leader’s jersey only two days into the race, and suddenly everyone was talking not just about Froome and Contador but also the Shark as a true favourite for the overall.
He Mastered The Dreaded Cobbles
Stage 5 was the most feared day of the entire race. The route featured several sections of cobblestones, which don’t usually appear in the Tour. To make things worse, it was raining on this hellish stage, so the century-old stones were slick and sure to cause chaos.
But Nibali surprised everyone by absolutely flying over the pavé, dropping just about everybody and gaining time in the general classification. He took third on the stage but the real damage had been done behind: He distanced chief rivals Contador and Froome, who crashed out.
The Tour was looking more and more like Nibali’s to lose, yet the mountains loomed and some wondered if the Italian would be able to keep his lead when the “real race” started.
He Lit Up The Climbs
On stage 10, the Tour’s first mountain test, Nibali’s main rival, Contador, crashed out. That left the race open for others to attack on the summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles. Yet all day Nibali benefited from his strong team, which set him up for a brilliant climbing debut in the Vosges Mountains. The only question now was, would Nibali shine in the mountains too?
Though some had questioned whether he’d have the legs to take the lead back, by day’s end there was no doubt who owned this Tour. Nibali attacked in the closing kilometers and soloed to his second stage victory and into the lead.
Still, Nibali wasn’t done. He would go on to win two more mountain stages, at Chamrousse and Hautacam, proving he was not only the best all-around rider but also the strongest climber.
He Constantly Stayed Vigilant
To win the Tour you have to climb mountains fast and race time trials fast. But in reality that’s not all: You also have to dodge crashes; race against headwinds and crosswinds in gnarly weather; bunny-hop potholes; and deal with in-the-way spectators. Nibali did all these things extraordinarily well. But there was more.
When it came to positioning himself in the peloton at critical moments, Nibali nailed that, too. To take one example, shown above, he found himself on stage 15 in a precarious situation where he could have crashed or been swarmed by riders as they approached a dangerous roundabout. He sensed the need to move up, so he powered out of the slipstream of his teammates and into the wind right to the front of the peloton. It was small but critical tactical moves like this that helped Nibali stay out of danger — and showed he could read a race as well as anyone.
He Was Relentless For The Full Three Weeks
In all Nibali won four stages, a remarkable achievement. Even until the final stages, he never rested on his well-padded lead of over 7 minutes. He raced more aggressively as the Tour went on, distancing himself from everyone with constant attacking.
With his victory, Nibali becomes the first Italian winner of the Tour de France since the late Marco Pantani in 1998. Before that, Felice Gimondi took the honours in 1965.
The Tour de France is the world’s largest annual sporting event. It attracts 3.5 billion TV viewers each year, according to the race organisers, and another 12 million spectators along the route in a typical year’s race.
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