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Tour de France 2013: a British win at a French passion

Briton Chris Froome won the 100th edition of the Tour de France, a now globalized race that has its roots in the French love of cycling.

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2013 Tour de France cycling race winner Christopher Froome of Britain, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, crosses the finish line with a teammate in the last stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France cycling race, which is over 133.5 kilometers (83.4 miles); starting in Versailles and finishing in Paris, France, Sunday.

Laurent Rebours/AP

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When Chris Froome pedaled through the streets of Paris tonight, from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe, as victor of the 2013 Tour de France, it was in many ways Britain’s moment to celebrate.  

It’s the second time a Briton has won the Tour de France in two years. And with Mr. Froome’s clear lead in this year’s Tour lies the prospect that Britain could dominate cycling’s most famous race for many more years to come.

France hoped for more in the 100th edition of the race, after going nearly 30 years without a winner. Instead, the Tour de France, which was begun by a French newspaperman in 1903, has become the essence of globalization: It is broadcast into 190 countries; it’s dominated by American and English riders and fans the world over; and they speak far more English than French these days. Plus, for a race that was a smash based on a simple European – especially French – love of cycling, modern times have seen it overshadowed by international – especially American – doping scandals.

But if the French are missing on the podium tonight, on the streets of Paris Sunday cynicism was scarce. For the 100th race, the riders finished in twilight, with a gorgeous, hazy moon lingering on the horizon, the first night-time finish in the Tour’s history. And from its start in Corsica, through the countryside, valleys, and mountains of this country, it’s been, experienced, as always, as a 100 percent French affair.

“The popularity now is global of course,” says Graeme Fife, author of “Tour de France: the history, the legend, the riders.” “But its evolution since 1903 has really been rooted in the love of French people for the race.”

Despite not having a winner, the French did manage to succeed in pulling off an event that was not dismissed at large by the public, after the exploits of disgraced American rider Lance Armstrong, who admitted this year to doping for each of the seven consecutive years he won the Tour from 1999 to 2005.

At a patch of tonight's final stage next to the Louvre Museum were not doubts and dismissals but enthusiasm. “Anyone who is able to participate in this race is privileged,” says Guillermo Duran, a Colombian who has lived in France for 22 years but was here tonight to cheer on Nairo Quintana, the Colombian second-place finisher. [Editor's note: The original version mistook Mr. Quintana's final position in the standings with that of his team.]

Suspicions of doping did, and will continue, to accompany cycling. Froome’s clear physical lead in this year’s Tour raised questions about whether he and is his team were clean. "I just think it's quite sad that we're sitting here the day after the biggest victory of my life ... quite a historic win, talking about doping," Froome told reporters after a stage win on Mont Ventoux. "Here I am basically being accused of being a cheat and a liar and that's not cool." 

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While it’s the British who are celebrating their superiority in this year’s race, the French, who have not won the Tour since 1985 with Bernard Hinault, had at least one stage to call their own. Rider Christophe Riblon won the L’Alpe d’Huez stage, considered the most iconic, and among the toughest, of the Tour. 

"A Frenchman winning on L'Alpe d'Huez is a beautiful recompense for France and for the Tour de France. We, the French, France, our team, didn't deserve to come out of this Tour de France without a stage victory," said Mr. Riblon, quoted in the Washington Post.

The Tour de France has always awed the globe for the fortitude of its cyclers, their ability to endure wind, and rain, and – like this year – brutal heat, over some 2,000 miles. For the French, it’s also been about heroism and renewal.

When it began in 1903, France was still reeling from military defeat in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870. “They generated the image of [the riders] as heroic, tough … people who could overcome terrible difficulties,” Christopher Thompson, the author of "The Tour de France: A Cultural History” and a professor of French history at Ball State University, told The Christian Science Monitor upon this year’s start

That held true throughout the first half of the 20th century, each time the race was started up again, after pauses during the world wars. Then they were dubbed tours of “renewal,” says Mr. Fife. And that’s a theme that’s re-emerged over the years in the wake of doping scandals, leaving some fans scoffing, others to abandon the sport altogether, but others coming back to the fold.

It is perhaps in the French countryside that support has barely ebbed, with spectators lining up for hours – picnics in hand – to watch the pack of cyclists speed by. It is the essence of a French summer. In Paris, the race’s international flare is more apparent – with the French vying for a post with the city’s hordes of tourists 

But it’s still something the French take pride in. “Today it’s a global event. More English is spoken than French,” says Armand Bouissou, who has watched the race each year since he can remember. “And it’s been marred by the doping scandal. But on the days of the race, that falls into second place.” 

“The tour is not just about the cyclists, it’s about all the people who come out to watch,” he says.  

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