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MARSEILLE, France (CT) – Barring an almighty mishap, Chris Froome (Sky) will ride into Paris tomorrow to win his third consecutive Tour de France and the fourth Tour title of his career.
Froome finished third in today’s stage 20 individual time trial in Marseille and in doing so extended his lead in the general classification from 23 seconds to 54 seconds. The resurgent Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) will finish the Tour in second, while last year’s runner-up Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) will finish third, 2:20 behind Froome.
In his Tour de France winner’s press conference, held on the evening of the penultimate stage, Froome reflected on what will be his narrowest Tour de France victory yet. For the Sky leader, it was the final moments of today’s individual time trial that rank as the most satisfying of this year’s race.
“Coming into the stadium just with Romain Bardet just ahead of me and knowing that if I navigated the last two corners correctly, that would be it for this year’s Tour de France battle,” Froome said. “I mean there have been ups and downs over the last three weeks but I think it has been very much a Grand Tour in the sense that it has been really about three weeks, doing those three weeks in the most conservative but efficient manner.
“It wasn’t about one single stage. And that’s what Grand Tour racing is.”
Froome moved into the overall lead back on stage 5, taking the yellow jersey from his teammate Geraint Thomas who had worn it since winning the stage 1 time trial. For the week after Froome took yellow it appeared as if he would wear it all the way to Paris. The 32-year-old looked unshakeable and additionally, in his previous Tour wins, Froome had taken yellow early and worn it through to the end.
But things changed on stage 12 when Froome cracked on the final climb to the Pyrenean ski resort of Peyragudes and Fabio Aru (Astana) moved into yellow. It was an unprecedented moment — Froome had never lost the yellow jersey in the mountains before and never to a GC contender.
So what happened to Froome on that day in the Pyrenees?
“I think if I’m honest with myself now I can say I probably didn’t get my fuelling quite right on that stage,” Froome said today. “I think I definitely went into the red that day and didn’t have enough fuel in the tank. Simple as that.”
It would be Froome’s only bad day of the Tour. Just two days later Aru lost time on a day he shouldn’t have and Froome was right back in yellow. He never let it go from stage 14 onwards.
After every stage in that final week Froome told the press that the race wasn’t over, that every second would count all the way to Paris. But now that the GC battle is over, did Froome feel more secure than he might have been letting on? Was he really worried about losing yellow?
“It was definitely never secure until I was over this line here in Marseilles,” Froome said. “This morning I didn’t know what was going to happen. Of course I wanted to come out here and win it today but I was just grateful when I got on to the road and the legs felt good.
“I felt as if I could push today and I wasn’t on a bad day at least, which was the main thing for me.”
While Froome won at least one stage en route to each of his previous Tour victories, he’ll leave the 2017 edition without a stage win to his name. Instead Froome won the 2017 Tour in the race’s two individual time trials.
In the stage 1 TT in Düsseldorf Froome put 39 seconds into Bardet and 51 seconds into Uran. In stage 20 he extended his gap to Bardet by 1:57 and put another 25 seconds between he and Uran.
So does Froome feel that not winning a stage takes something away from his fourth Tour victory?
“No, not at all,” he said. “It was always the tactic to ride a three-week race and basically not to go out there on one day with the aim of trying to blow the race apart and smash it for the stage win.
“It was always going to be a three-week race this year in the sense that … just chipping away on every stage and making sure there weren’t any massive losses on any days. I mean yes, I did suffer in the Pyrenees. I did lose 20 seconds, 25 seconds on that stage up to Peyragudes but I’m extremely grateful it wasn’t any worse than that.”
When Froome crosses the finish line on the Champs-Elysees tomorrow evening, he will move into outright fifth on the list of riders with the most Tour de France titles. The four riders ahead of him — Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain — all have five wins beside their name. While he’s within striking distance of those riders now, Froome isn’t necessarily motivated to join or surpass the Tour’s biggest names.
“I mean obviously it’s a huge honour just to be mentioned in the same sentence as the greats of Tour de France history like that,” Froome said. “But I’m certainly just taking it one race at a time at this point. I mean I have to get to Paris obviously tomorrow, safely, with the rest of the guys.
“I’ve certainly got a newfound appreciation for just how difficult it is for those guys to have won five Tour de Frances [sic.]. It certainly isn’t getting any easier each year and I think this year’s certainly been the closest race of my Tour de France career.”
While another win would put Froome into hallowed territory, Froome doesn’t idolise those ahead of him like some of his peers might.
“I’m not a big person to necessarily choose a role model and want to be like someone else,” Froome said. “I think everyone would agree with me when I say I’ve got a bit of a unique style on the bike and my own way of doing things. And that’s how I feel. I set my mind to something and I go for it.
“Especially coming into cycling quite late in my life … obviously [with] my childhood back in Africa I only started watching the Tour de France in the years that Lance Armstrong was racing with Ivan Basso. So those were the first memories I have of the Tour … I never actually watched those Tours of Merckx and Indurain and other guys, live. I probably don’t even know the full history of those events.”
It’s been four years now since Chris Froome won his first Tour and at 32 years of age, he has perhaps reached the peak of his physical capabilities. But the Kenyan-born Briton believes he’s still got more to learn, and the capacity to improve.
“I’m definitely getting older,” Froome admitted with a chuckle. “But at the same time … each year I’d like to think I’m still learning more and still developing as a rider, becoming a more complete rider.
“I think something I’ve certainly worked on in the last few years is my descending, my position in the bunch. I think tactically I’ve still got more to learn in the sport.”
One thing Froome won’t have to learn is how to sip champagne while riding his way to Paris to win the Tour de France.