Paris (AFP) -
Denmark's Jonas Vingegaard won the Tour de France on Sunday, ending the reign of two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar after a gruelling three weeks and 3,350km of relentless struggle.
The 25-year-old former fish-market worker claimed his first Tour de France title, a year after his break-out performance when he came second to Pogacar.
'This victory is huge for me, it's incredible,' said Vingegaard as he stood on top of the podium on a sun-kissed Champs Elysees.
'There are so many people I want to thank but I don't know where to start,' he added, reserving particular praise for organisers who started the race in his native Denmark.
Vingegaard also hailed teammate Wout van Aert as 'phenomenal' and 'the best rider in the world', as he was flanked by second-placed Pogacar and 2018 champion Geraint Thomas, who was third.
'We had a plan and we followed it to the letter, all my teammates outdid themselves,' added the champion.
Packed ranks of Danes in front of the podium began to chant his name as he thanked 'the two girls in my life', a reference to his partner and daughter.
'Without them, I couldn't have done this.'
Runner-up Pogacar won three stages along the way and also took the white jersey for best under-25 rider for a third straight year.
He was thanked by Vingegaard for this 'formidable battle'.
'The white jersey wasn't really what I was after, but I'm happy with how I raced and am proud to be second,' said Pogacar.
'We all dream when we are children of one day being on the Tour de France, of becoming a professional cyclist.
'The simple fact of participating in the Tour is incredible, especially when you come from a country like Slovenia. So to finish second is still exceptional.'
Belgium's Jasper Philipsen won the dash for the line on the cobbled Champs Elysees to take the iconic final stage victory, his second of this Tour, turning the page on his embarrassment at mistakenly celebrating on stage four, when he had in fact finished second.
'This is the nicest win for any sprinter, it buries the end of the Tour, this one counts,' said Philipsen.
Jumbo-Visma produced a brilliant collective effort with six stage wins, the green sprint jersey and the red combativity jersey for van Aert and the polka dot mountains jersey for Vingegaard as well as the overall title and yellow jersey.
After a relentless struggle over peaks and plains in a crushing heatwave, Vingegaard assured his win on Saturday's time-trial having taken the lead in the Alps and extended it in the Pyrenees.
Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion, was third after the veteran raced largely at his own pace, silencing doubters who thought that at 36, the affable Welshman was past his best.
- Struggle for supremacy -
The 21st stage was a largely ceremonial run as Vingegaard and others sipped champagne while rolling past sights of Paris including the Jardin du Luxembourg, through Saint Michel and past the Louvre before a sprint over eight laps of the Champs Elysees.
The Jumbo team had celebrated Saturday at their stop-over in Limoges but the triumph came after a long, collective effort that nearly fell flat at the last minute.
Vingegaard survived the 'heart attack' of a near fall on Saturday's individual time-trial to virtually wrap up the Tour.
The two main protagonists had fought each other from start to finish, with Vingegaard dethroning Slovenian Pogacar with a pair of soaring performances in the high mountains.
Pogacar made all the early running with his lone wolf attacking mentality, gradually clawing his way into top spot on stage six with an air of invincibility.
But the stars aligned against Pogacar when he lost teammates to Covid and injury. He is also a man known to dislike intense heat and temperatures hit 40 degrees during the final week of the race.
Vingegaard took the yellow jersey from Pogacar on stage 11 and while the UAE man refused stubbornly to give up, he lost further ground on stage 18.
Their epic struggle was highlighted by a moment of sportsmanship when Pogacar fell at high speed and Vingegaard waited for him to catch up, the pair clasping hands briefly in a memorable image from one of the best modern editions of the Tour.