Michael Matthews is the Tour de France official sprint king as Chris Froome put on a near-perfect performance to claim his fourth title and move within one title of cycling’s greatest.
Froome suffered a few hiccups, but was always in control over the three-week race thanks to his team mates who sheltered him when it mattered, leaving the lanky rider to make the difference in the time trials.
But there was glory for Australia as Team Sunweb rider Matthews’s versatility earned him the green jersey for the points classification, helped by the fact that world champion Peter Sagan was kicked out of the race after elbowing Mark Cavendish in a sprint finish.
Matthews was confirmed as the third Australian to win the green jersey, having effectively secured the gong in the 19th stage, provided he finished the race.
The 26-year-old deposed Sagan, the winner of the past five green jerseys, after winning stage 14 in Rodez and the 16th stage in Romans-sur-Isere, building up a huge lead over German rider Andre Greipel.
“It’s really a dream come true to stand there with the green jersey,” Matthews said.
The Canberra native entered Sunday’s final stage just needing to finish the mostly processional climax to the three-week race.
In doing so he joins Robbie McEwen (2002, ’04 and ’06) and Baden Cooke (’03) as Australians to have finished cycling’s biggest race as the top sprinter.
Froome’s Team Sky, which has the biggest budget of the peloton, has now snatched five of the last six titles and came within a whisker of placing two riders on the podium as Spain’s Mikel Landa missed out on the top three by one second, according to provisional timings.
Froome is now one title behind Belgian Eddy Merckx, Spain’s Miguel Indurain, and French duo Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.
He is the first to win three consecutive titles since Indurain, who prevailed from 1991-95. The disgraced Lance Armstrong’s seven titles since then have been erased from the record book.
“I’m speechless, it’s amazing,” Froome said after getting off his bike and hugging his wife Michelle and son Kellan.
“The Champs Elysees never disappoints, there is something magical when you have spent three weeks thinking about this moment, it’s just so rewarding every time.
“Each win has been so unique, such a different battle and this will be remembered as the closest and most hard-fought.”
Colombian Rigoberto Uran finished second overall, 54 seconds behind, and France’s Romain Bardet, runner-up last year, was third, 2:20 off the pace after both riders lost time to Froome in Saturday’s final time trial.
Sunday’s largely processional stage from Montgeron — where the first Tour started in 1903 — to the Champs Elysees in Paris was won by Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen in a bunch sprint.
Froome holds spot despite mechanical problems
The 103km ride was the occasion for Froome to sip rose Champagne with his teammates, as the race began only when the peloton, which went through the Grand Palais, reached the Champs Elysees.
Froome suffered two mechanical problems at key points in the race but his rivals failed to take full advantage of the failures.
He was beaten in a brutal uphill finish in Peyragudes as the 26-year-old Bardet won the stage, showing he has the potential to win the Tour.
France had a strong Tour with five stage wins, including a double by Warren Barguil, who won the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification and emerged as a popular figure, bringing back memories of Richard Virenque.
Britain’s Simon Yates won the white jersey for the best under-25 rider after finishing seventh overall, one year after his twin brother Adam achieved the same feat.
– With AAP, ABC