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After 12km of impossibly steep climbing, on a stage marred by rain and crashes, Chris Froome crossed the finish line atop Alto de l’Angliru Saturday with a smile on his face.
He finished the stage third, 17 seconds behind stage winner Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo), and just behind Team Sky teammate Wout Poels. He also added even more time to his closest GC rival, Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).
And with that, the Kenyan-born, South African-raised Briton had locked up the fifth Grand Tour victory of his career. Even more impressively, he’d pulled off the elusive Tour-Vuelta double.
Prior to this year, only two riders had won the Tour and Vuelta in the same year — Jacques Anquetil, in 1963, and Bernard Hinault, in 1978. However both of those victories came when the Vuelta was the first Grand Tour of the season and the Tour de France was the last, making Froome the first rider to win the Vuelta-Tour double in its current configuration, which began in 1995.
Froome, 32, also became the first rider to win two Grand Tours in the same season since Italian Marco Pantani won the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France in 1998. He will be the first British rider to win the Vuelta a España.
The Team Sky leader leads Nibali by 2:15; his historic achievement will be sealed Sunday when the peloton completes the largely ceremonial final stage into Madrid.
Between the 2017 Tour and Vuelta, Froome will have completed over 6,800km of racing across 42 stages through Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Andorra, and Spain. Though Froome did not win any stages at the Tour, he won two in Spain — an uphill finish at Cumbre del Sol on Stage 9, and the 40km time trial into Logroño on Stage 16. After more than 160 hours of racing his combined margin of victory is expected to be just over three minutes.
The victory comes as a bit of closure on unfinished business for Froome, who had placed second overall at the Vuelta on three occasions in his career, including in the 2011 edition, where he made his Grand Tour breakthrough riding in support of Bradley Wiggins.
“It’s an absolutely amazing feeling,” Froome said Saturday. “A massive thank you to my teammates for all the work they have done over the last few weeks. It’s been an incredible experience, probably one of the hardest Grand Tour I’ve ridden, if not the hardest. There was something different happening every day. I’ve had good days and then I’ve been lying on the ground, bleeding, thinking my race might be over. It’s been a rollercoaster, absolutely relentless. It’s a relief now to finish and to be getting to Madrid.
“I think it probably is my greatest achievement, being the first person to win the Tour de France and then go on to win the Vuelta.”