Tour de France 2013: Victory secured for Chris Froome
MISSION accomplished. Game over. Chris Froome will ride into Paris on Sunday as the overall winner of the centenary Tour de France having successfully overcome the last major hurdle of the race, the summit finish at Annecy-Semnoz.
The Briton could not add a fourth stage to his collection of 2013 victories as Colombia's Nairo Quintana darted away from Froome and Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez with a kilometre to go to claim his country's first stage win in the Tour since 2002.
However, overall Froome's domination has remained solid throughout the last week of racing, with the minimal gains made by Quintana barely denting the Sky rider's overall advantage of over five minutes. Froome's repeated 'thumbs-up' gesture as he crossed the line, with the Tour now safely in the bag, was, therefore, more than justified.
Second in the 2011 Vuelta a España and the runner-up in the 2012 Tour, Froome's first major Tour win was widely predicted. But it remains, nonetheless, a landmark achievement for the 28-year-old Kenyan-born Briton, that will confirm Froome as the new top name of stage racing. It also simultaneously reinforces Sky - already second in the GIro d'Italia this season with Rigoberto Uran - as the top-ranked team in the world.
"I think that for the overall classification that's it," Frooome said yesterday.. "With two kilometres to go to the finish I finally realised I'd won the Tour."
"It was a tough day today, and Rodriguez and Quintana rode strongly. But Sunday's final stage into Paris is a day for the sprinters, so I'm there."
Throughout the short but challenging Alpine stage, Quintana's Movistar squad had kept the pace high, maintaining an early break of 10 riders well within striking distance. After Alberto Contador, previously second overall, had shown signs of weakness on Thursday's ascent of Alpe d'Huez, Quintana knew that his chances of ousting the former double Tour winner from the runner's up spot were good.
However, it was a sudden acceleration by Sky, both at the foot of the climb and then again by Froome in person half way up that shredded the front group and left Contador reeling. Suddenly, the rival Froome had feared the most prior to the Tour was out of the podium places in Paris and in fact only just able to cling onto fourth overall.
"Froome was stronger than me and will have to go back home after this and think," said Contador. "Then two days afterwards, I will start working towards doing better in the Tour 2014." For now, though, he can only admit defeat.
When Froome briefely went clear there was a moment of speculation he was en route for a fourth stage win, but the Briton then eased back and let Rodriguez and Quintana, driving hard to ensure they would finish alongside Froome in Paris, make most of the running to the sundrenched Alpine summit.
Whilst Rodriguez strong third week has allowed him to become a podium finisher on all three Grand Tours at 33, Quintana ten years his junior, has been revealed as a major potential threat for Froome in the years to come.
In one fell swoop yesterday, Quintana not only secured Colombia's best ever overall finish in the Tour, but his stage victory has also enabled him to wrest the King of the Mountains jersey from Froome. At 23, too, Quintana is the first rider since Jan Ullrich in 1997 to claim victory in the Best Young Rider's classification. As the quietly spoken Movistar rider, in tears at his press conference, put it himself, "I can't really ask for more. There's a whole generations of Colombian cyclists waiting to break through, and I'm proud to be one of them." He does not rule out, either, an assault on the yellow jersey in 2014 or 2015.
In 2013, though, there is no doubt whom the yelllow jersey belongs too, and if Froome was unable to hold onto the King of the Mountains title, the most important victory of them all is now safely in his saddlebag.
"It's been an amazing personal journey, from riding on little mountain bikes back in Kenya when I was a kid to be here winning on the biggest event on the cycling calendar," Froome said.
"I have had everything thrown at me - crosswinds, hard days in the mountains, bad days in the mountains - and it's been an very appropriately tough race for the centenary edition." But it's been a fun challenge and I've enjoyed every part of it."