By Cindi Cook
PARIS (AA) - Despite the COVID-19 pandemic that has shaken the world to its core, nearly 200 riders from eight teams managed to gather from all over the globe to compete for the top spot and the 117th running of the most challenging race in cycling, the Tour de France.
Given the global outbreak of coronavirus, the Tour had to be moved from July, when it is traditionally held, to revised dates of Aug. 29 to Sept. 20.
Tour dates have only been altered twice before in its history, during the two World Wars. Occasionally the race will pass through other countries as well.
The grand awards ceremony brought out notable public officials, including France's Interior Minister Jean-Yves Le Drain, Education, Youth and Sports Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer, Minister Delegate for Sport Roxana Maracineanu, and Slovakia's President Borut Pahor.
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed his Slovak counterpart Borut Pahor at the Elysee Palace Monday morning for a celebration.
The champion, Tadej Pogacar, topped the podium three times wearing three separate jerseys which, along with the trophy, signify different categories of wins.
The coveted yellow jersey is reserved for the best time; the polka-dot for "King of the Mountains" -- or the rider who gains the most points by reaching mountain summits first; and the white jersey for the best rider under 25 years of age.
After a grueling 23 days on the roads of France, Pogacar and nearly 200 riders cycled 122 kilometers (76 miles) into Paris for Sunday's symbolic and dramatic finish.
There, they coursed up the Champs Elysees from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe and back down, repeating this loop to end just in front of the Place de la Concorde at the awards podium to a delighted group of fans, company and government officials, and a gaggle of the press.
Fellow countryman Roglic, 29, stood by Pogacar's side in second place on the podium, and Tasmanian Richie Port, 38, took third.
Irish Sam Bennett made the sprint across the finish line on Sunday to capture the day's green jersey for the most points earned.
2019 champion Colombian Egan Bernal abandoned his lead in the race through an arduous mountain leg last Wednesday.
On Saturday, a new champion was crowned: Tadej Pogacar, a Slovakian native and first-time competitor, who came from behind in the last minutes of the last leg of the race to edge out his competitor and fellow countryman, Primoz Roglic, in 57 seconds.
In an interview with MSNBC, Pogacar tried to express the meaning of this historic moment.
"This is just the top of the top; I cannot describe these feelings with words. This is incredible, standing here on the first step of the podium on Champs Elysees. I never thought I would do it."
Pogacar's mother and father, Marjeta and Mirko, were front and center for the entire race circuit and there to greet their son at the end, expressing joy along with disbelief at the turn of events.
"We are overwhelmed. We never thought it would come to this. We are so happy," said Marjeta Pogacar.