Te­na­cious Team Sky star counts lat­est tri­umph as tough­est yet

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

PARIS — Af­ter the cham­pagne bub­bles fade and Chris Froome drifts away from his cel­e­bra­tions to re­flect on a fourth Tour de France win, he may do so with greater fond­ness than was the case with his other tri­umphs.

The first, in 2013, brought the burst­ing pride of a first suc­cess. But he won by more than four min­utes, as he did last year. Al­though Nairo Quin­tana fin­ished a lit­tle over a minute be­hind him in 2015, this year’s vic­tory — by just 54 sec­onds — over an­other Colom­bian, Rigob­erto Uran, tastes sweeter.

“This Tour has been my tough­est yet,” Froome said on Sun­day.

On July 14 he tem­po­rar­ily lost the race lead to dar­ing Ital­ian Fabio Aru in the Pyre­nees on a huge climb to the ski sta­tion of Peyragudes, and thought he’d lost it al­to­gether two days later.

In Rodez, he was forced to change his rear wheel in the fi­nal 40 kilo­me­ters af­ter a spoke broke. He got dropped, drift­ing way be­hind the pelo­ton.

“I was just stand­ing there on the side of the road with my team­mate Michal Kwiatkowski,” Froome said. “I thought it was po­ten­tially game over.”

Rid­ing with un­chained fury, Kwiatkowski and Froome bridged the gap — and saved his Tour.

Fast for­ward to Satur­day’s penul­ti­mate stage in Mar­seille and a time trial — one of his strong­est dis­ci­plines. Froome was right back in the as­cen­dency and clos­ing in on win No 4.

Yet the fu­ture cham­pion was jeered by fans at Stade Velo­drome soc­cer sta­dium as he be­gan his ride, and more jeers fol­lowed along the route.

Froome had urine thrown at him on a pre­vi­ous Tour due to dop­ing al­le­ga­tions, so boo­ing was hardly go­ing to un­set­tle him. He was al­most chival­rous on the podium on Sun­day, ad­dress­ing fans in ad­mirable French.

“Thank you for the wel­come and your gen­eros­ity,” he said, with un­in­ten­tional irony. “Your pas­sion for this race makes it re­ally spe­cial. I fell in

Score­board

love with this race.”

This was the third straight win for the Team Sky rider.

“I want to ded­i­cate this vic­tory to my fam­ily. Your love and sup­port makes ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble,” Froome added. “I also want to thank my team Sky for its ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion.”

French­man Ro­main Bardet placed 2 min­utes, 20 sec­onds be­hind him in third, deny­ing Spa­niard Mikel Landa — Froome’s team­mate — a podium spot by a sec­ond. Aru fin­ished fifth, 3:05 be­hind.

As per tra­di­tion, the 21st stage — 103 km from Mont­geron to Paris— was re­served for sprint­ers and a pro­ces­sion for the rest. Dutch­man Dy­lan Groe­newe­gen won, edg­ing Ger­man rider An­dre Greipel and Nor­we­gian Ed­vald Boas­son Ha­gen. The fo­cus was else­where. Froome now needs only one more ti­tle to match the Tour record of five shared by French­men Jac­ques An­quetil and Bernard Hin­ault, Bel­gian Ed­die Mer­ckx and Spa­niard Miguel In­durain.

“It’s a huge honor to be talked about in the same sen­tence,” Froome said of those cy­cling greats.

How­ever, the Kenya-born Brit ad­mit­ted he is not well grounded in the race’s past.

“I prob­a­bly don’t even know the full his­tory of those events,” he said.

“Com­ing into cy­cling quite late in my life, ob­vi­ously my child­hood back in Africa, I only started watch­ing the Tour de France in the years that Lance Arm­strong was rac­ing.”

In­durain won five straight Tours from 1991-95, and Arm­strong won seven in a row from 1999-2005 be­fore the Amer­i­can was stripped of all of them for dop­ing.

Clearly, 32-year-old Froome isn’t one to seek in­spi­ra­tion else­where.

“I’m not a big per­son to nec­es­sar­ily choose a role model,” he said. “I’ve got a bit of a unique style on the bike and my own way of do­ing things.”

That in­cluded ruth­lessly putting more time into Uran and Bardet in Satur­day’s time trial.

Some might say Froome did not shine too brightly be­cause he didn’t win a stage, but nei­ther did Amer­i­can Greg Le­mond when clinch­ing his third Tour in 1990.

For Froome, con­sis­tency and a dogged abil­ity to re­spond un­der pres­sure were the keys. So was over­com­ing fear. No­tably in tack­ling speedy down­hill sec­tions that once filled him with the equiv­a­lent of an ac­tor’s stage fright. Some used to prod at his fear, the way a school­yard bully senses weak­ness. No longer. Froome zipped down­hill with new-found con­fi­dence.

of Team Sky, holds the win­ner’s tro­phy and a bou­quet af­ter win­ning the Tour de France for the fourth time in Paris,

“Some­thing I’ve cer­tainly worked on the last few years is my de­scend­ing,” he said.

Bardet lost his sec­ond place af­ter a night­mare time trial, crawl­ing home in near-ex­haus­tion.

As­ton­ish­ingly, Bardet re­vealed he found train­ing for the clock race too dull to bother with.

“I don’t like to go out for train­ing with the time-trial bike,” the 26-year-old said. “It’s a bit bor­ing for me.”

You wouldn’t catch Froome skip­ping train­ing. Then again, his ded­i­ca­tion is higher than most.

“In the time they had on the court, they were given op­por­tu­ni­ties and they seized them, so I am very ex­cited about their per­for­mances,” said Shoe­maker dur­ing last week’s Jr. NBA All-Star cel­e­bra­tion in Bei­jing, where Golden State War­riors guard Stephen Curry was the star at­trac­tion.

“I think they’ve proven once again the level of tal­ent here in China, and there will be more play­ers knock­ing on the door of the NBA in the near fu­ture.”

Mean­while, Yao Ming, China’s big­gest hoops ex­port, dis­missed spec­u­la­tion he is about to buy the Rock­ets, for whom he starred from 2002-11.

Hous­ton owner Les­lie Alexan­der last week an­nounced his in­ten­tion to sell the fran­chise de­spite the fact that Al­lS­tar Chris Paul has ar­rived in the off­sea­son to team up with James Har­den, and Carmelo An­thony mooted to sign too.

How­ever, CBA pres­i­dent Yao dis­tanced him­self from a re­turn to Texas, say­ing: “I have no time to con­sider any­thing else — in­clud­ing buy­ing the Rock­ets.”

Full name: Christo­pher Clive Froome Date of birth: May 20, 1985 Place of birth: Nairobi, Kenya Heght: 6-foot-1 Weight: 153 pounds Teams: Kon­ica Mi­nolta 2007, Bar­loworld 2008-09, Sky 2010-present Most no­table re­sults: Tour de France — win­ner 2013, 2015, 2016, 2017; moun­tains clas­si­fi­ca­tion 2015, seven in­di­vid­ual stages

Vuelta a Es­pana — 2nd 2011, 2014, 2016; three in­di­vid­ual stages, one team time trial

Cri­terium du Dauphine — win­ner 2013, 2015, 2016

Tour de Ro­mandie — win­ner 2013, 2014

Cri­terium In­ter­na­tional — win­ner 2013

Tour of Oman — win­ner 2013, 2014

Vuelta a An­dalu­cia — win­ner 2015

Olympic Games — time-trial bronze 2012, 2016

World Cham­pi­onships — team time trial bronze 2013

CHRISTOPHE ENA / AP

Bri­ton Chris Froome, on Sun­day.

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