Chasing Le Tour: Chris Froome, king of the mountains

by Matt de Neef

From the window of our hotel room here in Nyons, roughly 50km from Mont Ventoux, we can hear Bastille Day fireworks exploding off in the distance. And we saw fireworks of a different kind earlier in the day when Chris Froome shelled everyone on Mont Ventoux to take his second mountain-top win of the race.

For all the talk of Froome looking vulnerable and under-supported due to injuries and withdrawals in his team, the Kenyan-born Brit showed today that he’s the strongest climber in the race and, realistically, an unbackable favourite from this point on.

Nairo Quintana came closest to spoiling Froome’s day, having attacked with roughly 13km to go, reeling in a number of riders up the road. And when Froome attacked from a select group of riders with 7km to go and caught up to Quintana, the diminutive Colombian was able to stay with Froome, seeing off a flurry of attacks.

But with the two riders on the Mont Ventoux moonscape and with just over a kilometre to the summit, Froome attacked Quintana once more and that was that. The Colombian drifted backwards and the Brit stomped his way to victory in that awkward but so-damned-effective style of his.

For today’s stage we traded in our press accreditation and hire car for bikes, riding the mountain and watching it as fans. We set up shop at Chalet Reynard, 6km from the summit, and watched the race on the big screen as the riders approached.

All was going well until, with 10km left in the race, the giant screen went black. There were boos and jeers, and even a slow clap but the screen never lit up again.

At the point the screen went dark Quintana was in the lead, having leapt out of the peloton with ease and it was Quintana we expected to see come around the sweeping left-hander below the Chalet. When the lead vehicles cleared and the lead riders reached us it was Quintana that greeted us … but he had a companion in the shape of Chris Froome.

Froome’s dominant display ensured there was no Bastille Day fairy tale for the French but full credit to Sylvain Chavanel for getting in the break and attacking at the start of the climb. The move was ill-fated but it was certainly great to watch. And speaking of great to watch, how about Peter Sagan?

The Slovakian got in the breakaway and picked up some uncontested sprint points before being swamped by the peloton on the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux. But just as the Sky-led peloton approached, Sagan had time to pop a wheelie that must have lasted for as much as 20 metres. On a near-10% gradient. After a quick smile and acknowledgement to the TV cameras, Sagan faded back and was quickly swallowed by the surging field.

Tomorrow is the second and final rest day in the 2013 Tour de France and there’ll be a lot of people around the place very glad of that fact. If you’re reading this back in Australia enjoy a proper night’s sleep before the final six days of racing begin. Before then though, check out some of the photos we took atop Mont Ventoux.

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