L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France – After nearly five grueling hours of riding, as he strained and sweated to victory in an eye-popping Tour de France stage with crowds that turned cycling's most famous climb into a huge and raucous high-mountain party, Christophe Riblon didn't want it to stop.
Winning a Tour stage is always special.
Becoming the first French stage winner in the 100th Tour was doubly special.
Doing all this in front of hundreds of thousands of screaming fans, several rows deep up 21 steep hairpin bends in the Alps, well, Riblon wanted the joy to last.
"It was as if the crowds were carrying me. Magical," Riblon said. "The last kilometer wasn't long enough. I so would have liked to have profited more from that moment with the crowds. It was incredible. I would have liked for it to go on for 10 kilometers like that."
In a Tour that has offered a kaleidoscope of racing drama and scenic beauty, this Stage 18 was the one that set most hearts racing and tongues wagging when organizers unveiled the race route last October.
When their bodies and minds are already sapped by more than two weeks of racing, it sent the riders not once but twice up the legendary climb to the ski station of L'Alpe d'Huez.
The French got a perfect crescendo when Riblon spared them the indignity of a Tour without a stage win. The last time that happened was 1999. With just three stages left after Thursday to the finish in Paris, French chances were waning.
"A Frenchman winning on L'Alpe d'Huez is a beautiful recompense for France and for the Tour de France," said Riblon.
Riblon covered the 107.2- mile stage in 4 hours, 51 minutes, 32 seconds. Tejay Van Garderen of the United States, winner of the Amgen Tour of California in May, was second, 59 seconds behind.