FOURTH TOUR TI­TLE WAS TOUGH­EST BAT­TLE – FROOME

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

BOOED BY the lo­cals in Marseille 24 hours ear­lier, Chris Froome charmed huge crowds in Paris on Sun­day with a classy vic­tory speech af­ter claim­ing his “tough­est” Tour de France ti­tle. The Bri­tish rider was once show­ered with urine thrown by fans dur­ing the 2015 edition, be­fore wip­ing him­self down to claim his sec­ond ti­tle in cy­cling’s most fa­mous race. Two years on he has dou­bled that to­tal af­ter rid­ing into the cap­i­tal with a 54-sec­ond ad­van­tage over Colom­bia’s Rigob­erto Uran, with French­man Ro­main Bardet in third place. Froome, 32, now stands just one short of the record five ti­tles achieved by Bel­gian Eddy Mer­ckx, Spain’s Miguel In­durain and French duo Jac­ques An­quetil and Bernard Hin­ault. While French cy­clists may not flock to buy replica Team Sky jer­seys any time soon, they are at least be­gin­ning to re­spect Froome’s as­ton­ish­ing achieve­ments. He looked emo­tional on the podium af­ter be­ing pre­sented with the yel­low jersey that Team Sky mo­nop­o­lised for all but two days of the three­week race, first with Geraint Thomas then with Froome who held off his ri­vals with the help of his team­mates. “This Tour has been my tough­est chal­lenge yet. The per­for­mances of my ri­vals have pushed me harder than ever be­fore,” Froome said, read­ing from notes that he man­aged to drop while ad­dress­ing the on­look­ers. “I want to pay trib­ute to all the rid­ers for their sports­man­ship over the past three weeks. We race hard against each other, we suf­fer to­gether but the most spe­cial thing is the ca­ma­raderie and friend­ship within the pelo­ton.” Froome, who si­lenced the boos of the par­ti­san, Bardet-sup­port­ing Marseille fans with a time trial that ef­fec­tively won him the race, failed to take a stage this year – un­like in his 2013, 2015 and 2016 vic­to­ries when he had big­ger win­ning mar­gins. With team­mates such as Mikel Landa, Michal Kwiatkowski and Mikel Nieve re­lent­less at the head of the pelo­ton vir­tu­ally ev­ery day, Froome was never dealt any knock­out blows – even if he did look vul­ner­a­ble in the Pyre­nees. “I want to thank my team, Team Sky,” said Froome, who has signed a new three-year con­tract. “I could not have achieved this vic­tory with­out you. On and off the bike, your ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion means this is a team I am proud to be a part of. “Each time I’ve won the Tour has been so unique, so dif­fer­ent. It’s been such a bat­tle to get to this point.” The bat­tle goes on and next year Froome will be favourite to em­u­late the greats.

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