Better dope testing 'gave me a chance', says Nibali
Italian rider says improvements in policing created a level playing field, allowing him to stamp his class and win this year's Tour de France
Vincenzo Nibali said he would never have been in with a chance of winning the Tour de France had it not been for recent improvements in tackling doping.
The 29-year-old Italian is widely regarded as a clean rider and his victory on Sunday in this year's Tour was seen as proof that cyclists can win without resorting to cheating.
The reaction to his success is a far cry from that which greeted Lance Armstrong's seven successive wins during the darkest days of blood doping and use of the banned substance Erythropoietin (EPO).
When Armstrong won his first Tour - he has since been stripped of all seven - there was no test for EPO while throughout his reign testers were struggling to keep up with the cheats.
But now with random out-of-competition tests and the biological passport, cycling has come a long way.
"Steps have been taken and great progress has been made and with it my results have arrived," said Nibali.
"I have to thank [doping controllers] because without these iron controls maybe I wouldn't be here today."
The final stage was a traditional procession that culminated on the Champs Elysees. Nibali has now joined a select group of six riders to have won all three Grand Tours - after the Vuelta a Espana in 2010 and Giro d'Italia in 2013.
He admitted that while each one had its merits, there was something special about the Tour. "For me the Vuelta was the most important because it showed me that I could aim to win big tours like the Giro and the Tour," he said.
"As an Italian it's obvious that for me the Giro is very important but it's also special for the Italian fans. But what makes the Tour so much bigger is the international attention it demands. It's bigger, it's more beautiful.
"The level of competition is also higher than the others, although I had great rivals in both the Giro and the Vuelta."
Nibali said he still has many ambitions left in the sport.
"I've taken my place in the history of the Tour and that's very important but others also made their names in other great races, such as the classics," he said. "I never thought about making history, I just concentrated on trying to win the Tour, like I won the Giro and the Vuelta, because I'm a stage racer.
"Of course there are other races that I want to win like the Tour of Lombardy in which I've come close many times but not had the luck.
"Or the World Championships which I tried to win last year, or Liege-Bastogne-Liege.
"I've always liked these races and I'd like to try to win them, even though I'm more suited to stage races."
Nibali won four stages on this Tour and never had a bad day nor lost time to any of his rivals on any stage. "I'm used to the emotions. It's not my first Tour nor my first win in a Grand Tour," he said.
"There have been a lot of emotions and victories."
Ahead of the final stage, Ji Cheng - the first Chinese cyclist to complete the Tour de France - said: "I expect it to be an amazing day in my life … I'm already thinking of next year. The Tour de France is an amazing race.
"I've done my best in the role the team gave me. I've pulled at the front of the peloton as much as I could."
Cheng finished last in the overall classification, nearly six hours behind Nibali.