PARIS -- Chris Froome celebrated his Tour de France victory Sunday on the Champs-Elysees, as organizers held the final stage at night for the first time to mark the race's 100th anniversary. For Froome, who defended the race lead for 13 stages, the finish line in Paris could not have come soon enough.
He completed more than 2,100 miles in 83 hours, 56 minutes. After appearing to be superhuman during the Tour's first two weeks, Froome showed signs of fatigue on the final days in the Alps. On Thursday's stage on l'Alpe d'Huez, Froome lost ground to Colombian rider Nairo Quintana and Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez.
The pair then dropped Froome again on Saturday's ascent up to Annecy Semnoz, with the men vaulting past Spaniard Alberto Contador into second and third place, respectively, in the overall.
But Froome came into the Alpine stages with a nearly five-minute lead on Contador in the overall - a seemingly insurmountable margin in cycling. After finishing third up the Semnoz climb, he finally cracked a smile and pumped his fist, a sign that he realized the overall victory was secure.
"It's quite hard to wake up every morning still looking to grab seconds," Froome said. "Especially knowing you still have so far to go."
Froome's margin of victory over Quintana was 4 minutes, 20 seconds. It was the largest margin of victory since 2005, when Lance Armstrong won ahead of Germany's Andreas Kloden by more than six minutes. Armstrong lost that victory after he was found to have used performance-enhancing drugs during his career.
Comparisons between Froome and Armstrong swirled throughout the French media throughout the three-week race, and Froome regularly had to address speculation that he had doped. After lashing out several times, Froome eventually accepted the inquiries.
"I completely understand that being in this position - being in the yell jersey - it is normal to come under this level of scrutiny," he said. "Whoever is wearing it would be under the microscope on the same level."
Froome and his Team Sky manager David Brailsford did everything they could to quiet the doping speculation. Before the tour, the team had refused to release the data from Froome's wattage meter - a device that measures a rider's power. But midway through the final week, Sky reversed its course, and released the data.
Brailsford, who previously built Great Britain's Olympic track cycling into a factory of gold medals, said he, too, understood why fans and media would doubt the dominant performance.
"I think people believed in the Lance era when deep down maybe they knew they shouldn't have," he said. "They are [doing that now] and disbelieving in Chris, where deep down they probably know they should."
The victory was the second in as many years for Team Sky and Great Britain, with Bradley Wiggins winning in 2012. Froome holds a British passport, although he was born in Kenya. He began riding mountain bikes as a teen outside of Nairobi, and then raced on the road while attending school in South Africa. He turned professional in 2007, joining Team Sky in 2010. In 2011 he finished second at the Vuelta a España. Last year he finished second behind Wiggins at the Tour de France and in the Olympic time trial.
As it does each year, the Tour produced a handful of other heroes, most notably Quintana. The 23-year-old won a stage, finished second in the overall and also captured the mountains classification and the best-young-rider award at his debut Tour. Quintana's performance represents a renaissance for Colombia, which produced a handful of Tour favorites during the 1980's and 1990's, but was noticeably quiet at the race during the last decade.
Another surprise was American Andrew Talansky of the Garmin-Sharp team, who fought his way to 10th place in the overall in his debut Tour. A native of Key Biscayne, Fla., Talansky began racing at age 17 and won the U.S. collegiate national title in 2008. He flew under the radar in the U.S. development leagues until 2010. Last year he finished seventh at the Vuelta.
"I haven't had any pressure on me because it's my first Tour - I can ride my own race," Talansky said. "I know that in the future it won't always be that way."