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The four-time Tour winner took third on Alpe d’Huez with a performance head and shoulders above anything he has achieved since his major crash three years ago. It wasn’t heyday Froome of seated accelerations with legs spinning and rivals suffering, but it was a huge improvement on where the British rider has been in recent times.
Froome was part of a nine-man group that kicked clear on the Galibier and then raced away from the peloton on the third straight day in the Alps. Ahead of the break stood the iconic climb of the Alpe d’Huez and tens of thousands of fans lining the road.
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Only five riders were left at the foot of the climb with Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), Louis Meintjes (Intermarché), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), and eventual stage winner, Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) joining Froome.
Powless and Ciccone were dropped on the lower slopes before Pidcock surged clear with a powerful dig. Meintjes and Froome put up a fight and held the British rider to less than 20 seconds for most of the climb but the Ineos rider would not be denied his first Tour de France stage win.
Meintjes took a highly creditable second place with Froome, taking third – a place higher than he had finished the last time the race climbed the Alpe back in 2018.
“I’ve been feeling better and better and have been wanting to target a stage like today. I tried my luck in the breakaway and I gave it everything that I had. I have no regrets, I had no more to give on that final climb. Tom and Louis had more in their engines than me. Congrats to them for the stage today. Thanks to my team and my teammates for allowing me the chance to get up the road today,” an exhausted Froome said at the finish.
Heading into the final climb it wasn’t clear who had the best chance of winning. Pidcock had looked strong all day and he was a different class on the sweeping descents. Meintjes looked comfortable, while Froome had the obvious advantage when it came to experience.
“It was all still unknown. To me personally, Tom seemed like the strongest in the group. The way he bridged the gap to me on the first climb. He was flying on the descents today. His mountain biking came in handy today. There were a few points where I backed off because he was pushing the limits,” he said.
This result was Froome’s best performance since his career-threatening crash at the 2019 Critérium du Dauphiné, where he suffered a multitude of injuries. It has been an incredibly long road back just to this point and while he is still far from the rider who dominated grand tour racing between 2013 to 2018, the veteran rider could still be content with his day in the break.
“I have no regrets today. Naturally, I would have loved to have put my hands up and I tried to win the stage. I gave it everything today. I don’t have any regrets. Where I’ve come from over the last three years, battling back from my accident to finish third on one of the hardest stages in the Tour, I can be really happy with that,” Froome said.
There is still a week and a half in this year’s Tour de France and the four-time Tour winner didn’t rule out being in another break, possibly in the Pyrenees.
“I’m going to keep pushing. I don’t know what my limits are, I’ll keep trying to improve and hopefully get back to them again,” he said.