By Nigel Wynn
History has been made. Bradley Wiggins (Sky) won the 2012 Tour de France overall in Paris on Sunday, becoming the first British rider to take the victory in the most prestigious event in the cycling calendar. And team-mate Mark Cavendish took an unprecedented fourth consecutive win on the Champs Élysées to top off a remarkable Tour.
A chunk of Britain was transported to the iconic Champs Élysées, as Union-flag-waving fans turned out in force to celebrate what must rank as the country's greatest cycling triumph. And they were there to celebrate Britain's most accomplished all-round cyclist, who adds the yellow jersey to six Olympic medals, three of them gold.
Wiggins' Sky team-mate and fellow Brit Chris Froome finished in second place crowning what has been a dominant display by Team Sky over the past three weeks in France. Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished third overall, six minutes and 19 seconds behind Wiggins. By his own admission, he was unable to compete with the Sky duo.
Defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) also suffered during the race, but hung on to a respectable seventh place overall.
Wiggins' Tour campaign has been faultless. After placing second behind Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack) in the opening prologue in Liege, Wiggins kept himself out of trouble in a crash-festooned first week. He then took charge of the overall classification after stage seven to La Planche des Belles Filles, and then took his first Tour stage win in the time trial two days later.
Wiggins' grip on the yellow jersey tightened in the Alps and Pyrenees, where the combined effort of Froome and Wiggins dispensed their rivals with an air of cool calm.
Any doubt of which of the two talented Britons should be leading Sky was dispelled on Saturday, when Wiggins obliterated the field in the final time trial, winning by well over a minute over Froome, who himself had put in a stellar ride to place well ahead of Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank).
Final stage action
The day started in Rambouillet with the traditional final day procession featuring photo opportunities for the press and a tangible sense of relief from the remaining 153 riders in the race that they'd made it to Paris.
As soon as the riders hit the cobbles of the Champs Élysées the pace upped. With a flurry of attacks led by Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan). The German was eventually joined by ten other riders and they quickly opened up a gap of 30 seconds and sustained the advantage until the final 10 kilometres when only Voigt, Rui Costa (Movistar) and Sebastien Minard (Ag2r) remained.
Behind, a combination of Sky and Liquigas-Cannondale riders led the bunch to try and bring it all back together for a bunch sprint for Mark Cavendish and Peter Sagan respectively.
The escape were caught in the final few kilometres as Wiggins hit the front of the bunch to enormous cheers from the crowd. Wiggins blistering pace set up the Sky train to deliver Cavendish to his third stage win of the 2012 race, and his fourth consecutive victory on the Tour's final stage.
It was a very fitting end to a very British Tour, where the Brits won seven stages - a third of the total.
Green jersey sensation Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) finished in second place, with Australian Matt Goss (Orica-GreenEdge) in third.
A year of firsts
As well as this being Britain's first Tour win in the race's 99 editions, there are a number of other records set this year. Wiggins' win aside, Froome's second place is the first time that a Briton has stood on the second step of the podium at the Tour.
It's the first time that four different British riders - Wiggins, Froome, Cavendish and Millar - have won stages in the same edition of the race.
Wiggins sets a new British record for the most amount of days spent in the yellow jersey - 13. Incidentally, Britain becomes the 13th nation to provide a Tour de France winner.
Wiggins is also the first Olympic gold medallist to win the Tour overall. And now he goes into the London 2012 Games as outright favourite to win gold in the time trial event.
On stage 18, Cavendish equalled sprinter Andre Darrigade's stage win record set between 1953 and 1964 for a sprinter when he claimed his 22nd stage victory. Cavendish's 23rd stage win in Paris means he is now the Tour's most successful sprinter of all time. The outright record for most stage wins is held by Eddy Merckx, with 34 victories.
It was also a full set of firsts for the other classifications: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) took three stages and earned the green jersey in his debut Tour. Thomas Voeckler (Europcar) gave the home nation plenty to cheer about once again with two stage wins and the King of the Mountains title. American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) marked himself out as a future Grand Tour contender with solid rides in the mountains and time trials to win the youth classification.
RadioShack-Nissan won the team classification, some consolation for what has been a torrid Tour for the team that hit a low with the departure of Frank Schleck after he tested positive for a banned diuretic during the race.
As well as a Tour of firsts, it's a Tour of lasts - for George Hincapie (BMC Racing), Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana) and Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan). All three veteran professionals have now completed their final Tour. In the case of Hincapie, he sets a new record of 17 participations and equalled Joop Zoetemelk's record of 16 Tour finishes.
Tour de France 2012, stage 20: Rambouillet to Paris, Champs-Élysées, 120km
1. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky in 3-08-07
2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
3. Matt Goss (Aus) Orica-GreenEdge
4. Juan Jose Haedo (Arg) Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
5. Kris Boeckmans (Bel) Vacansoleil-DCM
6. Greg Henderson (NZl) Lotto-Belisol
7. Borut Bozic (Slo) Astana
8. Andre Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol
9. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky
10. Jimmy Engoulvent (Fra) Saur-Sojasun all same time
54. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky at 9 secs
Final overall classification
1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky in 87-34-47
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Sky at 3-21
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale at 6-19
4. Jurgen Van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol at 10-15
5. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 11-04
6. Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Radioshack-Nissan at 15-41
7. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing at 15-49
8. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar at 16-26
9. Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana at 16-33
10. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-BigMat at 17-17
12. Nicolas Roche (Irl) Ag2r-La Mondiale at 19-33
35. Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin-Sharp at 1-25-23
95. Stephen Cummings (GBr) BMC Racing at 2-47-03
106. David Millar (GBr) Garmin-Sharp at 2-55-24
142. Mark Cavendish (GBr) Sky at 3-28-36
Points competitions (green jersey)
1. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
King of the Mountains (polka-dot jersey)
1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Europcar
Youth classification (white jersey)
1. Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing
British invasion of Paris
Richie Porte leads the way on the Champs Élysées
Mark Cavendish wins in Paris
Bradley Wiggins wins overall
Jersey winners (l to r): Sagan, Wiggins, Voeckler and Van Garderen
Tour de France 2012: Latest news
Cavendish recognises advantage in missed Tour chances ahead of Olympics
Orica-GreenEdge still learning in debut Tour
Hoy says a Wiggins win would be greatest ever British sporting achievement
Cavendish adds to impressive Tour de France for Sky
Schleck's Tour B sample also positive for banned substance
Sky's quick exit strategy from the Tour
Wiggins and Froome explain Tour stage 17 final climb debate
Liquigas hopes Tour success could help find sponsor
Froome: Nibali's attacks weren't going anywhere
Wiggins' Tour de France training
Voigt tries to carry on as RadioShack's future seems in doubt
Tour de France 2012: Teams, riders, start list
Tour 2012: Who will win?
Tour de France 2012 start list and withdrawals
Tour de France 2012 team list
Tour de France 2012: Stage reports
Stage 19: Wiggins wins time trial to claim Tour de France
Stage 18: Cavendish wins Tour stage 18 with irresistible sprint
Stage 17: Wiggins step closer to Paris as Valverde wins stage
Stage 16: Voeckler the Pyrenean king as he wins in Bagneres de Luchon
Stage 15: Fedrigo wins, day off for peloton
Stage 14: Sanchez solos to Foix victory to save Rabobank's Tour
Stage 13: Greipel survives climb and crosswinds to win third Tour stage
Stage 12: Millar wins Tour stage nine years from his last
Stage 11: Wiggins strengthens Tour lead as Evans slips back
Stage 10: Voeckler wins and saves his Tour
Stage nine: Wiggins destroys opposition in Besancon TT
Stage eight: Pinot solos to Tour win as Wiggins fights off attacks
Stage seven: Wiggins takes yellow as Froome wins stage
Stage six: Sagan wins third Tour stage
Stage five: Greipel wins again as Cavendish fades
Stage four: Greipel wins stage after Cavendish crashes
Stage three: Sagan runs away with it in Boulogne
Stage two: Cavendish takes 21st Tour stage victory
Stage one: Sagan wins at first attempt
Prologue: Cancellara wins, Wiggins second
Tour de France 2012: Comment, analysis, blogs
Analysis: What we learned at La Planche des Belles Filles
Analysis: How much time could Wiggins gain in Tour's time trials
CW's Tour de France podcasts
Blog: Tour presentation - chasing dreams and autographs
Comment: Cavendish the climber
Tour de France 2012: Photo galleries
Stage 19 by Graham Watson
Stage 18 by Graham Watson
Stage 17 by Graham Watson
Stage 16 by Graham Watson
Stage 15 by Graham Watson
Stage 14 by Graham Watson
Stage 13 by Graham Watson
Stage 12 by Graham Watson
Stage 11 by Graham Watson
Stage 10 by Graham Watson
Stage nine by Graham Watson
Stage eight by Graham Watson
Stage seven by Graham Watson
Stage six by Graham Watson
Stage five by Graham Watson
Stage four by Graham Watson
Stage three by Graham Watson
Stage two by Andy Jones
Stage two by Graham Watson
Stage one by Graham Watson
Prologue photo gallery by Andy Jones
Prologue photo gallery by Roo Rowler
Prologue photo gallery by Graham Watson
Tour de France 2012: Team presentation
Sky and Rabobank Tour de France recce
Tour de France 2012: Live text coverage
Stage 18 live coverage
Stage 17 live coverage
Stage 16 live coverage
Stage 12 live coverage
Stage 11 live coverage
Stage 10 live coverage
Stage nine live coverage
Stage six live coverage
Stage five live coverage
Stage four live coverage
Stage three live coverage
Cycling Weekly's live text coverage schedule
Tour de France 2012: TV schedule
ITV4 live schedule
British Eurosport live schedule
Tour de France 2012: Related links
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
Brief history of the Tour de France
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
1989: The Greatest Tour de France ever
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