Tadej Pogacar has won a second successive Tour de France, hailing his victory as “an incredible adventure” while Australia unearthed its next genuine contender as Ben O’Connor finished a surprise fourth overall.
Wout van Aert claimed the final stage on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday after three weeks of thrilling action. Pogacar stole in at the 11th hour to win the 2020 edition, but this year he stamped his authority in the first week before he pulled on the yellow jersey beneath the Arc de Triomphe as the undisputed champion, aged just 22.
“We did it,” he said with a huge smile.
“It was one thing last year, the first win, I didn’t cry this year,” he said glowing in his big moment and thanking everyone with his parents and siblings all present.
“I hope we can all come back next year without masks.
“It’s been an incredible adventure being part of this cycling family,” he said dedicating his latest triumph to “all cycling fans everywhere.”
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Jumbo’s Belgian rider Van Aert stormed past Briton Mark Cavendish to take the 21st stage after also winning a time-trial at Saint-Emilion and a mountain stage at Mont Ventoux.
“I’ve won a giant Tour de France stage,” Van Aert said. “But I’m just a little cyclist compared with Tadej.”
Marking the end of the old era, 36-year-old Cavendish narrowly missed out on a fifth win on this edition — and a record 35th on the Tour de France.
Jasper Philipsen was second on the day as Deceuninck rider Cavendish fell just short, punching his handlebars in frustration.
Four wins in the six stages that ended in a mass bunch sprint were enough, however, for him to equal Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins on the Tour and secure him the green sprint points jersey.
“It was just too hard,” Cavendish said of the final sprint. “But it’s just wonderful to be here,” he said on the podium after picking up his award.
Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard, also of Jumbo, was a surprising second in the general classification, while Ineos’ Richard Carapaz was third to follow his 2019 triumph on the Giro d’Italia.
O’Connor, 25, became only the fourth Australian in Tour de France history to finish in the top five of the general classification — a result he’d said would take a “miracle” — after Richie Porte most recently did it finishing third last year.
O’Connor’s result was built on a dominant stage in Tignes last week and he had to battle hard to keep a place in the top five.
The performance will put the international cycling world on notice with his French team AG2R-Citroën — which has mostly backed Romain Bardet in general classification — also reportedly making the Australian their lead rider at the upcoming Vuelta a España.
“Just to make Paris is special, but now that I’m fourth overall is wild. It’s special and something that I’ll never forget,” O’Connor said.
Pogacar “rode between the raindrops” after surviving a litany of crashes as the Tour embarked from the nation’s western tip at the Atlantic port of Brest.
The Slovenian then pulverised his rivals in the first time-trial as the race headed towards the Swiss and Italian border ski resorts where he also held his own.
The UAE Team Emirates leader then produced a pair of joyful mountain victories in the Pyrenees to rubber stamp his status as the best rider on the Tour this year.
Pogacar also won the awards for best rider under-25 and the king of the mountains polka-dot jersey, a triple he also achieved on his debut last year.