Italian Davide Rebellin of Gerolsteiner won the Paris-Nice "race to the sun" on Sunday after Caisse d'Epargne's Spaniard Luis Leon Sanchez won the seventh and final stage, a 121.5km final stage around Nice.
Rebellin, who Saturday had made up a 32sec deficit on previous leader Robert Gesink, thus erased the memory of last year's disappointment, when he lost the crown on the final day to Alberto Contador as he held on to his advantage over compatriot Rinaldo Nocentini.
Contador was unable to defend his crown after organisers banned his Astana team from this year's edition as a result of doping scandals over the past two years, a decision which will also prevent the Spaniard from launching a defence of his Tour de France title.
Sanchez's second career stage win in the event saw him win a dash for the line having hit the front over the final three kilometres, the peloton unable to haul him in on the picturesque Promenade des Anglais boulevard after negotiating their final obstacle, the 4.8km Eze climb 13km out.
Rebellin, 36, said he was delighted to have added the Paris-Nice to a CV which includes the 2001 Tirreno-Adriatico, a pair of Mediterranean Tours in 1999 and 2001 and two Brixia Tours (2006 and 2007), as well as a slew of one-day races and a Giro stage in 1996.
"I'm delighted. I am very pleased to have landed this title having previously come so close. It was very tough but we managed to ward off attacks and controlled the race well," he told French television.
"It proves that at the age of 36 I still have the capacity for recovery and to turn in good showings," added the new champion, who said he had suffered in Thursday's climb at Ventoux. "It was tough on the Ventoux and I knew it would be hard. I am not a climber, but I gave it all I had. A lot of riders my age have packed it in."
Despite the contractual spat between French organisers ASO and the International Cycling Union which marred the build-up Rebellin added that he believed the sport was cleaning up its act.
"Perhaps now cycling is recovering its credibility, there are many (doping) tests," he said. "We want to make cycling as clean as possible."
Earlier Sunday, the riders showed solidarity with fellow racer Kevin van Impe after the Belgian was asked for a urine sample just as he was grieving at a crematorium following the death of his new-born son last week, the peloton protesting to delay by several minutes the start of the final stage.
Van Impe's compatriot Philippe Gilbert, a member of the international riders association CPA, insisted that, while the riders were not against doping tests, they wanted more respect shown.
"Perhaps this went too far," said Gilbert, in allusion to the test at an inopportune moment for van Impe.
For more photos, final results and a complete race report, visit Cyclingnews.com.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008