Chris Froome makes history by winning the Giro d'Italia to complete grand slam
Chris Froome became the first Briton to win the Giro d'Italia on Sunday after safely negotiating the final stage in Rome, won by Ireland's Sam Bennett.
Team Sky's Froome finished the stage some 17 minutes in arrears alongside his remaining six team-mates but a decision to neutralise the overall times after three of the 10 city centre laps ensured that the British rider retained his 46-second lead over Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) in the final standings.
By winning the 101st edition of La Corsa Rosa, Froome became the seventh rider to win all three of cycling's Grand Tours after Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Felice Gimondi, Bernard Hinault, Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali.
Froome, 33, also became only the third rider to win all three of cycling's major races in succession following Eddy Merckx in 1972/73 and Bernard Hinault in 1981/82.
Concerns over the safety of the riders on the unforgiving cobbled streets of Rome brought about the decision to neutralise the final times – and allowed Froome the luxury of being able to enjoy the moment as he celebrated winning the maglia rosa by ironically finishing at the back of the peloton.
"It was great to be able to soak up the atmosphere here in Rome with all the monuments and crowds. That certainly didn't disappoint," Froome said.
" It hasn't sunk in yet but for any cyclist this is the dream: to have all the leader's jerseys within 10 months. I'm still pinching myself – I can't believe it's happening. I've always been a little afraid of coming here [to the Giro] and really targeting it because of the demands it takes to win it. To come here and win the race, I can't quite believe it."
Froome's performance over the highest peaks in the race also saw the Kenyan-born Briton secure the maglia azzurra – or climbers' blue jersey.
Colombia's Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) took the third spot on the final podium at 4'57" and won the white jersey youth classification ahead of fourth-place Richard Carapaz (Movistar), the Ecuadorian Stage 8 winner.
Dumoulin, who beat Nairo Quintana on the last day of last year's Giro, was gracious in defeat. The 26-year-old said he had "no regrets," adding: "Froome pulled something really special off so congratulations to him."
Ireland's Bennett had already been celebrating his victory for the best part of 20 minutes when the triumphant Froome and his Sky team-mates crossed the line with their arms interlinked.
In the final sprint of the race, Bora-Hansgrohe's Bennett powered past his Italian rival Elia Viviani (Quick-Step Floors) to win Stage 21 in the shadow of the Colosseum and take his third triumph of the race.
Bennett's hat-trick denied Viviani the chance of becoming the first rider since Mark Cavendish in 2013 to win five stages in one Giro, but the former Sky rider will take consolation from securing the maglia ciclamino points classification.
Froome's Grand Tour Grand Slam
Victory in the race Team Sky have traditionally struggled in filled the final piece of Froome's Grand Tour jigsaw: the 33-year-old joins the elusive club of riders to have won all three of cycling's three-week stage races and becomes only the third rider in history to secure a consecutive grand slam of Grand Tours following Merckx and Hinault.
Trailing compatriot Simon Yates by more than three minutes with two key Alpine stages remaining, Froome put in a quite remarkable attack on the queen stage to Bardonecchia on Friday – attacking on the Colle delle Finestre with 80km remaining before soloing to glory to cap one of the most remarkable comebacks in modern cycling history.
With Mitchelton-Scott's Yates cracking on the gravel roads of the highest point in the race and plummeting out of the pink picture, Froome beat Dutchman Dumoulin by well over three minutes to seize the maglia rosa and move 40 seconds clear of the defending champion ahead of the final stage in the Alps.
Despite a spirited last-ditch attack by Dumoulin on the final climb of the race to Cervinia, Froome extended his lead by six seconds in Stage 20 to all but secure his historic triumph – memorably described as "the biggest comeback since Easter Sunday" by fellow rider George Bennett of New Zealand.
Arriving at the race undercooked and underneath the cloud of his on-going investigation for his adverse analytical test for salbutamol during last September's Vuelta, Froome crashed in training ahead of the opening time trial in Jerusalem and did not enter the top five until his Stage 14 win on Monte Zoncolan.
He conceded time the day after his Zoncolan heroics, however, before rising to fourth place after a solid time trial at Rovereto after the third rest day. At this point, the fight for pink looked to be a two-horse race between Yates and Dumoulin – but Froome and Sky had different ideas.
When triple stage winner Yates stuttered on the first of three decisive summit finishes at Prato Nevoso in Stage 18, the scene was set for Froome's astonishing knock-out blow, which he secured with some heart-in-mouth descending and gutsy climbing en route to his stunning solo victory in Stage 19.
"I'm lost for words," Froome told Eurosport before the final stage to Rome. "It's such an emotional feeling to be here in the pink jersey going into Rome, especially after the roller coaster of the last few months. To win the Tour, Vuelta and Giro in that order is completely amazing."
Asked whether Froome felt confident of making history by winning a fourth consecutive race – and secure a rare Giro-Tour de France double – Froome remained coy, saying: "Let's get through today first and then we can start to look at the next one."
Bennett ends breakthrough Giro on top
With a city centre route that took in famous landmarks such as the Colosseum, Circus Maximus, Trajen Forum, Piazza del Popolo, Altare della Patria and the Spanish Steps, it seemed that Stage 21 had been designed with tourism and not cycling in mind.
Soon after the riders started the first of 10 laps around the 11.5km circuit in Rome, it became clear that the jagged cobbles, potholes, manhole covers, bottlenecks and road furniture of the Italian capital were hardly conducive for safe racing.
Froome, Dumoulin and Viviani were all spotted deep in conversation with the race commissaires and it was eventually decided that the final times for GC would be taken after three laps.
Once the race for stage spoils got under way a large group of 20 riders managed to build up a 45-second lead with the Quick-Step team of Viviani marshalling the chase.
Russian Viacheslav Kuznetsov (Katusha-Alpecin) and the Dane Chris Juul-Jensen (Mitchelton-Scott) were the last two of the break standing before being reeled in ahead of the final lap.
A counter attack involving German powerhouse Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) and the sprinter Danny van Poppel (LottoNL-Jumbo) looked dangerous but was reeled in with 4km remaining.
Quick-Step Floors came to the front to give Viviani the ideal lead out – but with Bennett on his back wheel, the Italian was always going to have a fight on his hands.
And so it proved, with the spirited Irishman proving too fast – forcing the maglia ciclamino to sit up and roll home for second place behind an ecstatic Bennett.
Luxembourg's Jean-Pierre Drucker (BMC) took third while Belgium's Baptiste Planckaert (Katusha-Alpecin) and Italy's Manuel Belletti (Androni Giocattoli) completed the top five.
It was not for another 17-odd minutes until the GC gruppetto came home with Team Sky in a line bringing up the rear and savouring Froome's historic victory – arguably his most accomplished of his illustrious career.