PARIS • Chris Froome put on a near-perfect performance to claim his fourth Tour de France and move within one title of cycling's greatest on Sunday as Team Sky tightened their grip on the classic race.
The Briton, 32, suffered a few wobbles throughout the 3,540km race, but was always in control over the three weeks.
It was all thanks to his high-calibre team-mates who sheltered him when it mattered in the mountains, leaving the lanky rider to make the difference in the time trials that bookended the 104th edition.
Sky have 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.
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Froome is now one title behind all-time greats Belgian Eddy Merckx, Spain's Miguel Indurain and French duo Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault.
He is also the first to win three consecutive titles since Indurain, who prevailed from 1991 to 1995.
Disgraced American rider Lance Armstrong's seven titles have since 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 (in Paris) 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 most hard-fought."
Colombian Rigoberto Uran finished second overall, 54sec behind, and France's Romain Bardet, runner-up last year, was third, 2min 20sec off the pace after both riders lost time to Froome in Saturday's final time trial.
Sky's team principal Dave Brailsford said there was no reason Froome could not add to his tally and become the most successful rider in the race's history.
"I think Chris can go on, there is no reason to think that he can't," he said.
"Physically, he has got what it takes and I don't think that's going to diminish in the next year or so."
Sunday's largely processional 103km stage from Montgeron - where the first Tour started in 1903 - to the Champs Elysees was won by Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen in a bunch sprint.
France's Warren Barguil won the polka dot jersey for the mountains classification, while Australian Michael Matthews's versatility earned him the green jersey for the points classification - helped by the fact that world champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia was kicked out of the race for causing a crash that ended Mark Cavendish's race.
Germany's Marcel Kittel won five stages, but crashed a few days before the finish.
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 his fourth Tour de France title in the bag, Froome is now likely to move on to the Tour of Spain, depending on his form.
"It's always been the plan to go on and do the Vuelta, but I'll have to see how I shape up over the next 10 days and when I get back into training," he said.
In the longer term, he expects to continue riding for the next five years, although he is not sure how long his Tour-winning run will last.
"I'd still like to keep racing into my late thirties and keep competing for the yellow jersey," he added.
"But it certainly doesn't get any easier. This year was the closest it's ever been for me and it's only going to be harder next year."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN
Reward has to be split numerous ways
PARIS • Chris Froome picked up €500,000 (S$792,708) on Sunday as his prize for winning the Tour de France.
It is a tidy sum but by tradition, the Briton must share the spoils with his Team Sky colleagues, and not just the riders but the mechanics, the chef, the soigneurs and even the drivers of the team buses.
Froome is the highest-paid rider in the peleton and commands a millionaire's salary.
WHERE TOUR STANDS IN PRIZE MONEY CHART
ROGER FEDERER, Wimbledon tennis champion
JORDAN SPIETH, The Open Championship golf winner
CHRIS FROOME, Tour de France winner
KATINKA HOSSZU, Swimming World Cup overall winner
€1 = S$1.6
But it is back-breaking work. He had to cycle 3,540km over 21 days, earning roughly €5,800 for each of the 86 hours he spent in the saddle, plus an extra €500 for each day he wore yellow.
There are myriad other ways for the riders to earn a few extra euros in the Tour - again all shared with the team.
Points jersey winner Michael Matthews earned €25,000 for his Sunweb team who also shared the same sum for Warren Barguil's polka dot jersey for being king of the mountains.
Stage wins were worth €11,000 and the smaller teams, desperate for publicity and extra revenue, sent riders out in daily breakaways aiming to hoover up prize money.
Intermediate sprint wins were worth €1,500 while riders first to crest the climbs were also rewarded, although €800 for making it first to the top of a monster such as the 2,360m Col d'Izoard in the Alps hardly seems particularly generous.