Tour de France 20: Wiggins makes history in Paris

Cavendish makes it four in a row on Champs-Élysées

This article was originally published on Cyclingnews.com.

Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) became the first Briton to win the Tour de France, taking the title of the 2012 Tour as he crossed the finish line on the Champs-Élysées Sunday afternoon. 

The final stage ended with the usual mass sprint, as Mark Cavendish easily took his fourth straight closing stage win. Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale), one of the stand-outs of the Tour, took second, with former Cavendish helper Matthew Goss of Orica-GreenEdge third.

Wiggins stood atop the podium with a gap of over his most dangerous rival, Sky teammate Christopher Froome.Vincenzo Nibali of Liquigas-Cannondale rounded out the podium, finishing third at down.

It was a historic moment for the British rider, who spent the entire race in first or second place overall. He stamped his authority on the race with two time trial victories, winning against the clock on stages 9 and 19 to assure himself of the title. The only rider really able to challenge him was his teammate and lieutenant, Froome.

"I've had 24 hours for this to soak in and today we were just on a mission to finish the job off with Cav," said Wiggins on the team website. "So job done and what a way for him to finish it off. I’m still buzzing from the Champs-Elysees.

"I've got to get used to going into the history books now, but I’m just trying to take everything in today first. It’s very surreal at the moment because this type of things [usually] happens to other people. You never imagine it happening to yourself."

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Cavendish was jubliant with his stage win. "It’s incredible what we’ve achieved today – what a team. We got a one and two on GC but still we were riding to control things on the Champs-Elysees. It was an honour to have the yellow jersey leading me out. Bradley told me he’d go full gas to the last kilometre and then Edvald (Boasson Hagen) led me into the last corner. The finish couldn’t have been more perfect – no better end to this Tour,” he said on the team's website.

"It’s an incredible achievement for the team. Four years ago we said we were setting out to win the Tour, but we haven’t just done that, we’ve got second place as well and a handful of stages. Seven stages have been won by British guys this year so that’s one in three – not a bad stat."

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Rush to the finish on the Champs-Élysées

The final stage followed its usual pattern, as the riders relaxed in the sun and in anticipation of successfully finishing the hard three weeks. There were even two category four ranked climbs in the first third of the race, with KOM Thomas Voeckler of Europcar picking up another point at the first one. The relaxed atmosphere only lasted until the sprinters could sense the approaching Champs-Élysées, and the racing then started. 

Two of the older riders, Christopher Horner (RadioShack-Nissan) and George Hincapie (BMC), who is retiring this season, were allowed to lead the way over the finish line as the field hit the Champs Elysees. They were then replaced by veterans Jens Voigt (RadioShack) and Danilo Hondo (Lampre-ISD), with a small group forming later around them.

Rui Costa (Movistar), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan), Marcus Burghardt (BMC), Sebastien Minard (AG2R), Lars Bak (Lotto Belisol), Maxim Iglinskiy (Astana), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Jean Marc Marino (Saur-Sojasun), Karsten Kroon (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Bram Tankink (Rabobank) and Aliaksandr Kuchynski (Katusha) built up a lead of up to 30 seconds on the closing circuit.

Sky led the chase for Cavendish to claim his fourth straight victory on the Champs Elysees, but as things progressed, they were joined by Liquigas riding to set up Peter Sagan. The lead group eventually fell apart, leaving only Minard, Voigt and Costa at the front.

The trio fought valiantly but never really had a chance, and with about 3 km to go, were caught. Shortly before that, a crash in the middle of the field took out two riders: Hondo and Mikael Cherel (AG2R).

None other than the yellow jersey Wiggins himself led the field under the flamme rouge for the final kilometer of the 2012 Tour. He peeled off to let Edvald Boasson Hagen make the final lead-out for Cavendish. Once the Manxman was in the wind on the finishing straight, there was no doubt as to his victory.

Wiggins rides to the top

Wiggins was never far from the top of the race, spending the entire race in either first or second place. He finished second in the race's prologue, three weeks ago, only seven seconds behind winner Fabian Cancellara. Wiggins successfully avoided the mass crash in the sixth stage, which took out a number of riders and put an end to the hopes of several contenders.

He made his move, though, on the race's first mountain stage. On stage seven, which featured the first mountaintop finish, Team Sky prepared the way for Wiggins by taking control of the stage and putting down a blistering pace the whole way.  By the time they approached the final climb up  La Planche des Belles Filles, the two Sky riders led the small group of favourites, dropping Cancellara along the way. Defending Tour champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing Team) jumped first, Froome caught and passed him for the stage win, but Wiggins caught up to cross the finish line in the same time as the Australian, and took over the yellow jersey, which he never gave up.

As expected, Wiggins really won the Tour in the time trials. He won both of them, with Froome second in both. Even four-time World time trial champion Cancellara couldn't come close to him in the first time trial. But it was the second time trial, held yesterday, which really sealed the matter. Wiggins covered the rolling 53.5km over a minute faster than Froome.

Wiggins and Froome quickly became an inseparable pair, although there were often indications that Froome was unhappy with the relationship. The younger Briton was obviously the stronger rider on the climbs, and showed his impatience at being held back by his captain. He went public with his indignation at not being allowed to win the Tour, before belatedly realizing it was better to say nothing.

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The jerseys

Wiggins and Cavendish were not the only winners of the day, though. Peter Sagan of Liquigas-Cannondale took the green jersey for the points classification, having won three stages. He also fought to take points at the intermediate sprints and made a reputation for his victory celebrations, ranging from the Hulk to Forrest Gump. It was in incredibly impressive Tour debut for the 22-year-old Slovakian.

Thomas Voeckler claimed the King of the Mountains classification and its polka-dot jersey. He wrestled it away from Astana's Fredrik Kessiakoff with his first of two stage wins, in the 16th stage. The Europcar rider aggressively defended it through the remaining few stages.

Best young rider was 23-year-old Tejay van Garderen. The 23-year-old American riding for BMC Racing Team finished his second Tour in fifth place, eleven minutes down, but six minutes ahead of the second-best young rider, Thibaut Pinot (FDJ-Big Mat).

Team RadioShack-Nissan went from the high of Fabian Cancellara's prologue win to the low of Fränk Schleck leaving the race under suspicion of doping, and along the way managed to win the team title.

Hincapie says adieu

A long-time popular rider took his final bow in the Tour. George Hincapie of BMC Racing Team finished his 17th Tour at 38th overall, an hour and a half down. Over the years, he rode in support of nine winners: Lance Armstrong (seven times) and Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans (once each).

Hincapie wore the yellow jersey for two stages in 2006, and won a total of four stages, three of which were team time trials. But perhaps his most important victory was winning the heart and hand of podium girl Melanie Simonneau.

The sprinters

All eyes were on Mark Cavendish at the Tour, but from even before the race it was clear that it would be difficult if not impossible for Sky to support both Wiggins and Cavendish. The reigning world champion got the short end of the deal, but by the end of the race, he, too, was doing his share to support the team leader and sacrificing his own chances. Cavendish ended up with three wins, as did Greipel and Sagan.

Cavendish was overshadowed this year by none other than former teammate Andre Greipel, whom he once said could win only “little shit races.” The Lotto Belisol rider put that to the test, and took three sprint wins. Equally impressively, he finished second to Sagan on the sixth stage after crashing twice and having a suspected dislocated shoulder, which fortunately proved not to be so.

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