By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – Briton Chris Froome cemented his status as one of the greatest Tour de France riders when he secured his third title on Sunday after a three-week rocky ride.
Germany’s Andre Greipel won the 21st and last stage, a 113-km ride from Chantilly ending on the Champs Elysees in Paris.
Team Sky rider Froome survived two crashes and even a jog up a mountain road to add to his 2013 and 2015 triumphs and become the first rider to retain his title since Spaniard Miguel Indurain in 1995.
American Lance Armstrong won seven titles in succession from 1999 but was erased from the winners’ list after admitting to doping.
“This tour has obviously taken place against the backdrop of terrible events in Nice and we pay our respect again to those who lost their lives,” Froome said of the recent incident in which a man killed 84 people when he drove a truck through a Bastille Day crowd on the seafront at the Riviera city.
“Of course these kinds of events put sport into perspective but they also show why the values of sport are so important to free society.”
Frenchman Romain Bardet finished second overall 2:52 behind Froome, who had a 4:05 lead going into the last stage but was caught on the wrong side of a split in the finale of Sunday’s stage.
Colombian Nairo Quintana, runner-up in 2013 and 2015 who was expected to push Froome to the limit, ended up a disappointing third, 3:08 off the pace.
Pole Rafal Majka won the polka dot jersey for the mountain classification and his Tinkoff team mate, world champion Peter Sagan, clinched a fifth green jersey for the points classification.
Sagan, who won three stages, was also voted the most aggressive rider in the three-week race while Adam Yates showed Britain was full of resources, ending up fourth overall and winning the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider.
Another Briton, Mark Cavendish, claimed four stages but he pulled out of the race on the second rest day to prepare for the Olympics, where he will be competing on the track.
Froome built his success on an impressively strong Team Sky, arguably the best assembled in recent Tour history, being able to rely on domestique de luxe Wouter Poels in the mountains.
The Briton, however, had a few scares.
In the 12th stage ending on Mont Ventoux, he crashed when he was involved in an incident with a TV motorbike and even ran up the road after his bike was broken.
Froome hit the deck again on a slippery descent in the 19th stage, but he had by then sewn up his win thanks to strong performances in the time trials and surprise attacks on a descent and the flat.
The atmosphere was much more relaxed on Sunday when the peloton rode a largely processional stage, Froome drinking beer and champagne in the neutral zone.
Things got more hectic once the race entered the Champs Elysees, the bunch even splitting in the finale as a reduced peloton contested the sprint finish.
Greipel was the strongest, comfortably beating Sagan and Norway’s Alexander Kristoff.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar/Rex Gowar)