Froome claims fourth Tour ti­tle

Marysville Appeal-Democrat - - SPORTS - By Jerome Pug­mire As­so­ci­ated Press Aso­ci­ated Press

PARIS – Af­ter the cham­pagne bub­bles fade and Chris Froome drifts away from his Sun­day night cel­e­bra­tions to re­flect on a fourth Tour de France win, he may do so with greater fond­ness than the oth­ers.

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 one 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.

Froome tem­porar­ily lost the race lead to the 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.

Last Sun­day in Rodez, he was forced to change his rear wheel in the fi­nal 25 miles 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 the Stade Velo­drome foot­ball sta­dium as he be­gan his ride, and more jeers fol­lowed along the route.

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

“Thank you for the wel­come and your gen­eros­ity,” Froome said, with un­in­ten­tional irony. “Your pas­sion for this race makes it re­ally spe­cial. I fell in 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,” he said. “I also want to thank my team Sky (for your) ded­i­ca­tion and pas­sion.”

Bardet placed 2 min­utes, 20 sec­onds be­hind him. But he de­nied Spaniard Mikel Landa – Froome’s team­mate – a podium spot by just one sec­ond. Aru fin­ished fifth, 3:05 be­hind.

As per tra­di­tion, the 21st stage – 64 miles 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, Froome is more of a slick mod­ernist than a rem­i­nis­cent his­to­rian.

“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 straight from 1999-2005 be­fore the Amer­i­can was stripped of all of them for dop­ing.

Clearly, the Kenyan-born 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, like a school­yard bully senses a weak­ness. Not any­more. Froome zipped down­hill with new-found con­fi­dence.

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

Oth­ers should do more home­work.

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,” he said. “It’s a bit bor­ing for me.”

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

Tour de France win­ner Bri­tain’s Chris Froome, mid­dle, sec­ond place Rigob­erto Uran of Colom­bia, left, and third place Ro­main Bardet of France, cel­e­brate on Sun­day in Paris.

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