Chris Froome confirmed himself as the winner of the 100th edition of the Tour de France as the race came to spectacular close in Paris.
The Brit crossed the line safely under the lights on the Champs-Elysees to secure back-to-back Tour victories for Team Sky by a commanding margin of four minutes and 20 seconds.
Froome won three stages along the way, climbing to mountain-top victories on Ax 3 Domaines (stage eight) and the infamous Mont Ventoux (stage 15). The first African-born winner of the Tour de France also showed his all-round strength by winning the undulating stage 17 time trial to Chorges.
The final was always likely to come down to a sprint finish and after 10 laps of the famous circuit Marcel Kittel edged out a close three-man sprint.
The Argos-Shimano rider fended off German compatriot Andre Greipel (Lotto-Belisol) to make history of his own, in the process denying third-placed Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) a fifth consecutive win on the Champs-Elysees.
Moments later it was Froome’s turn to celebrate, following in the footsteps of team-mate Sir Bradley Wiggins 12 months earlier to cross the line arm-in-arm with his Team Sky team-mates.
After crossing the line an emotional Froome said: “It brought tears to my eyes just coming over the line with the guys like that. I expected it to be big but this is something else.
“I’m speechless. This really was an amazing way to finish of a fitting 100th edition of the Tour de France."
The 28-year-old then took the famous podium, standing alongside second placed Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and third placed Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) to deliver a heartfelt speech.
“I’d like to dedicate this win to my late mother," he said. "Without her encouragement to follow my dreams I would probably be at home watching this event on the TV. It’s a great shame she never got to come and see the Tour. But I’m sure she would be extremely proud if she was here tonight.
“This amazing journey would not be possible without the support I’ve received on and off the bike. I’d like to thank my team-mates who have buried themselves day in-day out, throughout this Tour to keep this yellow jersey on my shoulders. And the Team Sky management, for believing in my ability and building this team around me. Thank you to all the people who have taken their time to teach and mentor me over the years, to get me into this privileged position.
“Finally I’d like to thank my close friends and family, who have been there for me every step of the way - especially my fiancée Michelle who is here tonight. This is a beautiful country, with the finest annual sporting event on the planet. To win the 100th edition is an honour beyond any I’ve dreamed. This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time.”
Victory after 21 stages was the product of a huge team effort from Froome and his team-mates dug deep since the first stage in Corsica.
Geraint Thomas showed massive heart to complete the race with a fractured pelvis following a crash on a hectic opening stage. The fight he demonstrated was matched by Ian Stannard – also crashing that day – who put his horsepower to great use across the three weeks to complete his first Tour.
Belarusian Kanstantsin Siutsou completed his second Grand Tour this season with a valuable role for the team, but after stage nine the team were forced to continue without his compatriot Vasil Kiryienka. The 32-year-old missed the time cut after a brutal stage in the Pyrenees.
Pete Kennaugh came of age during the race in his first Tour appearance, the Manxman demonstrating huge climbing potential, teaming up with the likes of David Lopez to push a mean tempo on the climbs. Team Sky were sadly pushed down to just seven riders after a late crash on stage 12 caught up Edvald Boasson Hagen, the unlucky Norwegian fracturing his right scapula.
Richie Porte played a huge role as Froome’s wingman in the mountains, most notably on Alpe d’Huez when the yellow jersey had his most difficult day on the race. Even then the Brit put time into his rivals, winning the race with panache to add his name to the history books.
The finale of the race saw an added spectacle as an afternoon start to the 133.5km test in Versailles allowed the riders race into the darkness for the first time.
Froome dropped back to the team car to enjoy a glass of champagne as Team Sky passed out the bubbly on the run
Team Sky hit the front to lead the peloton onto the Champs-Elysees and around the Arc de Triomphe for the first time with the sun beginning to set in Paris.
As expected a number of attackers had tried to go clear on the crowd-lined circuit, David Millar (Garmin-Sharp) opening out a slender gap before a further dangerous trio of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Bram Tankink (Belkin) and Manuel Quinziato (BMC Racing) went away - the sprinters’ teams controlling things behind.
As the bell rang for the final lap Team Sky hit the front with Thomas leading the peloton across the line with the victorious yellow jersey in second wheel. Then it was left to the sprinters and Kittel surged home to round off the centenary edition in style.