Blazin' Saddles

Tour de Farce: Champagne Nibbles and China’s lanterne rouge

Blazin' Saddles

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As Vincenzo Nibali celebrated winning the 2014 Tour de France, one rider in the pack still had to negotiate another of the laps around the Champs-Élysées.

That's right - Cheng Ji, already the last man on the general classification by almost six hours after Saturday's time trial, managed to get himself lapped in Paris after suffering a nasty fall in the cobblestones of the capital.

For the last time in 2014, sit back and enjoy a sideways glance at how the events of the day panned out during the final stage of the world's biggest bike race...

With a lead of almost eight minutes, Italian champion Nibali was able to take it easy on the processional run into Paris - dexterously picking up four glasses of champagne from his team car to share out with his Astana team-mates.

The race was already running behind schedule after the organisers forced Nibali's team-mates to change out of the special yellow bib shorts they had made in celebration of their man's overall victory.

Five hours later, ASO clearly forgot to hand on the memo to Eurosport's Stefano Bernabino, who probably should have been banned for his own choice of attire too (as nicely as it did nevertheless mirror Nibali's post-stage get-up).

Once Astana did finally roll out of Evry and the stage got going, the Kazakh-funded team were shown up by a Peter Sagan-wannabe fan who pulled off a very impressive wheelie while riding alongside the maillot jaune and his lieutenants.

With the king of the mountain Rafal Majka sporting matching shorts and top, many fans were puzzled as to why he wasn't given the same cold shoulder as Astana.

The Polish youngster didn't just do a Pierre Rolland and wear spotty shorts - he also customised his bike, tyres and handlebars to fit the occasion.

Majka wasn't the only one - Peter Sagan also went down the same road with a special custom-made Cannondale steed to match his green jersey. Shame he could only muster up an eighth place finish on it, mind. Despite a third successive points jersey victory, Sagan failed to take a win despite four second places and top tens in double figures.

Sagan clearly thought little of his fellow jersey winners, playfully cocking his leg on them during one of the numerous photo shoots during the (very, very long) processional part of the final stage.

Once the race finally did hit the Champs-Élysées there was drama from the outset - and not simply because Jens Voigt put in the last of many breakaway attempts of his 17-year Tour de France career.

Entering the Place de la Concorde towards the end of the second lap, a small pile-up saw Jean-Christophe Peraud hit the deck after seemingly skidding on a zebra crossing.

Needing to finish within 32 seconds of compatriot Thibaut Pinot to conserve his second place on the podium, it was a heart-in-mouth moment for the veteran, who had to be paced back by four Ag2R-La Mondiale team-mates.

If you watch the above video carefully you will see the yellow jersey Nibali and Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel classily coming to the front of the peloton to urge the leading riders to slow the pace to allow Peraud back on - a nice touch if ever there was one. Peraud also benefitted from a good bit of drafting a race commissaire's car...

Spare a thought for Cheng Ji though: the Chinese rider was thrown right over his handlebars in the crash, landing awkwardly on an already injured leg.

Unlike Peraud, Ji had no team-mates to help nurse him back - and soon found himself lapped by lone leader Richie Porte (who decided on the last stage of the race to put in his first attack of the Tour for Sky).

Of course, Ji may have simply been making the proverbial calculation that Sean Kelly refers to every now and then: by being swept up by the pack, Ji could have theoretically helped the lead out for his Giant-Shimano team-mate Marcel Kittel, who went on to power past Katusha's Alexander Kristoff for his fourth stage win of the race.

But the day really belonged to Nibali, who joined the illustrious club of six riders to have won all three major tours.

It's fair to say, following (and even before) the withdrawals of Messrs Froome and Contador, the Italian was by far the outstanding rider of a race that he pretty much made his own.

Tinkoff-Saxo's colourful Russian billionaire owner Oleg Tinkov was grateful in 'defeat' but vowed his Spanish leader would be back in 11 months time to give the defending champion a run for his money.

And finally (well after Ji eventually rolled over the line a combined six hours and two minutes in arrears of Nibali) it was left to the sadly departing Jens Voigt to provide a rather poignant (if a little grainy) image of one man bidding adieu to the Tour after a total of 340 stages in the saddle.

Goodbye Jens - like Stefano's trousers, you'll be sorely missed. Which is more than can be said of Majka's shorts...

Felix Lowe - Twitter: @saddleblaze

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