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PARIS (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) pedaled into the City of Light as the unchallenged king of the Tour de France Sunday.
In a race when many expected him to fold, Froome confounded his rivals at every turn. Surprise attacks in unexpected places, complete control in the mountains, and domination in the time trials delivered the African-born British rider his third yellow jersey.
Here are the key moments of Froome’s victory:
Gotcha! Attack on the descent
If one moment defines Sky’s approach to this Tour it’s Froome’s daring downhill attack off the Col de Peyresourde in stage 8. With the first major summit finale at Arcalis the next day, the peloton seemed content to tap down GC aggression throughout the four-climb stage. Froome had something else in mind, and attacked over the top of the first-category climb just as Quintana was reaching for a water bottle. Putting his descending skills on display, Froome tucked in under the hoods, and pedaled his way down the mountain in an awkward but highly effective attack. By the time Movistar and the others began chasing, it was too late. Froome won the stage, took important seconds to Quintana, and captured the yellow jersey for good.
Froome: “The one I enjoyed the most was winning on the descent down to Luchon,” Froome said. “That epitomizes what racing is all about. I really did feel like a kid again.”
Crosswinds! Attack on the flats
Three days later, Froome delivered another stunning surprise, following world champion Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in a daring, late-stage attack as crosswinds buffeted the peloton on the road to Montpellier. Each with one teammate, the world champion and yellow jersey poured everything into the pedals in a Merckxian-style attack that exhilarated just as much as it confounded. Despite a determined chase by a peloton full of sprinters and GC contenders, the two strongest riders in the peloton made it to the line. Add up the time differences and bonuses, Froome had already taken 35 seconds out of Quintana, nearly half of his winning margin from 2015.
Froome: “That moment was about being ready to take advantage of any opportunity. It was important to be at the front in the crosswinds, and when I saw Sagan jump, my instinct said to follow. It was important to take the time, even if were just a few seconds, because the Tour could be decided in seconds.”
Running man! Chaos on Ventoux
It’s an indelible image that will forever be part of Tour lore. And it was one that no one had ever seen before in the Tour’s 100-year history: the yellow jersey running up the road on cycling’s most famous climb. Mont Ventoux was a decisive rematch between Froome and Quintana, and the outcome would go a long way toward determining who won yellow. After not attacking in the Pyrenees and losing valuable seconds to Froome in his surprise sorties, pressure was on Quintana to attack. Four days of hammering crosswinds, however, took the wind out of Quintana’s sails. He surged twice lower on the truncated Ventoux climb, and Froome countered over the top, gapping a struggling Quintana. Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo) linked up, and the trio were powering away, opening up a gap of 30 seconds.
Chaos soon descended on the race; Porte ran into the back of a TV motorcycle that was jammed up by fans and other motorcycles, knocking all three to the ground. Froome’s frame was broken, and rather than panicking, Froome simply took to foot. Froome’s snap decision to run up the side of Ventoux while he waited for spare bikes to make it through the tangle of humanity revealed his ability to react in a sea of chaos. The subsequent jury decision neutralized his losses, throwing the race into controversy. Froome kept his head, and kept his maillot jaune.
Froome: “It was a very exceptional circumstance, with no precedence to go by. It was a race motorbike that basically stopped us from racing, and the jury based their decision on that. It was a pretty stressful situation at the time. I decided the best thing to do was to keep moving.”
Threshold! Sky’s pain train smothers rivals
Another key element to Froome’s victory was the overall strength of Team Sky. “Fortress Froome” was loaded with quality riders who would be leaders on other teams. Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe, and world time trial champion Vasil Kiryienka protected his flanks on the flats. Mikel Nieve, Sergio Henao, Wout Poels and Mikel Landa set a wicked tempo on the climbs. Geraint Thomas was the utility player.
In the mountains, Sky’s “pain train” rode at near threshold levels, putting Froome’s rivals on the rivet, and all but smothering the race on the decisive climbs. The pace defanged Quintana, and none of Froome’s direct rivals could take major gains in the mountains, as his helpers neutralized the most dangerous part of the Tour. More than a few called it boring, but it was so effective that Froome could mark his rivals, and then attack if he needed to. With such a big lead, he didn’t have to attack.
Froome: “By far, this has been our strongest lineup at this Tour. We brought a team loaded with climbers. It was imperative for this Tour route, given that the race would be decided in the climbs.”
Against the clock! TT gains secure victory
The combination of Froome’s chip-away tactic that kept his rivals off-balance throughout the Tour, and his overall team’s strength laid the foundation for his decisive time gains that came against the clock. Even the lumpy course in stage 13 and the climber’s course in stage 19 couldn’t dampen Froome’s dominance in the TTs. The lion’s share of his winning margin came thanks to those two key stages. Tom Dumoulin (Giant – Alpecin) won stage 13, but Froome took nearly two minutes on all of his major podium rivals (except Mollema, who was closest at 51 seconds slower).
Froome won at Megève to take another half-minute on his podium rivals, all but securing yellow, and leaving the remainder of the race a scramble for the podium. His decision to race a full TT set-up proved decisive, and helped give him a comfortable margin for the final mountain stages. Even a high-speed crash the next day couldn’t derail the unstoppable Froome.
Froome: “A big part of my success was selecting the right equipment. When I saw the course, I thought I’d ride with the road bike, but after the team analyzed it, we opted for a full TT set up. The Pinarello TT bike isn’t 9kg anymore. The other aspect was pacing. For all those who started too fast, it was easy to get carried away. I didn’t. I had some targets in my head with the numbers. I’ve had to adjust them more or less on the way but pretty much it went all according to the plan.”