Italian seals win in Paris
This time, there were no grand declarations. When Vincenzo Nibali took the microphone to greet the multitudes on the Champs-Élysées, the newly-crowned Tour de France champion's speech was a simple one. Words of thanks for his team and his family, and tears of joy as the magnitude of his achievement dawned on him.
"It's the most important moment, the most beautiful moment. Standing on this podium on the Champs-Élysées is something unique and standing on the highest step is even more beautiful than I could ever have imagined," Nibali said.
Rather than ad lib, the Sicilian opted to read his speech from a sheet of paper. One senses that it was simply to ensure that he didn't forget to thank any of those closest to him amid the emotion of the occasion.
Immediately on crossing the line, Nibali had been greeted by his wife Rachele and their infant daughter, Emma, as well as his parents Salvatore and Giovanna, while Astana general manager Alexandre Vinokourov surveyed the scene. Atop the podium, Nibali carefully thanked both his personal and professional support.
Unlike last winner's Chris Froome, Nibali stuck to his native tongue for the duration of his speech, although he switched to French for his sign off. "Merci à tous les français e merci a tout le monde," he said shyly, to applause from those lining the Champs-Élysées.
As he descended from the dais, a group of Italian supporters began to chant the bass line from the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army, an anthem appropriated by the national football team en route to victory at the 2006 World Cup and seemingly used to fete all Italian sporting success ever since.
While the tifosi sang his praises from behind the barriers, Italy's first Tour winner since Marco Pantani in 1998 spoke to television crews on the cobbles of the Champs-Élysées, still struggling to put words on his emotions. "I'm still in a bit of a daze," Nibali admitted to RAI television. "I'm not able to externalise it but on the inside, this has taken my breath away, it's fantastic.
"Finally I can say it: I've won the Tour de France. And finally I can start to recover my energies. It was a huge effort. I had the jersey from the second day and that's not easy."
In adding the Tour de France to his victories at the Giro d'Italia (2013) and Vuelta a España (2010), Nibali becomes only the sixth rider in history to win all three Grand Tours, following in the wheel tracks of Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault and Alberto Contador.
"Soon I'll be chasing big objectives again," Nibali said. "I've always like the big stage races, but there are classics and world championships too."
Nibali was asked by France Télévisions if his victory could be viewed as proof that it was possible to win clean. "I think so but not only because of my victory," he said. "In recent years there have been some nice, important and clean victories. Cycling has changed in recent years and we can be proud of it."
Earlier, the same interviewer had spoken with Vinokourov, who was expelled from the 2007 Tour after testing positive for blood doping but is now the general manager of the race winner's team. "It's one of the most beautiful days of my life," Vinokourov said. "It's a great victory."
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