Tour ends to­day

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

Chris Froome clinched his fourth Tour de France cham­pi­onship in a high-pres­sure time trial in heat­baked Mar­seille on Satur­day, hold­ing a 54-sec­ond lead en­ter­ing to­day’s pro­ces­sional fi­nal stage. He needs just one vic­tory more to join the record-hold­ers who have five.

MAR­SEILLE, France — Chris Froome stands on the doorstep of the Tour de France’s great­est cham­pi­ons.

Sewing up his fourth cham­pi­onship with a coolas-a-cu­cum­ber ride in a high-pres­sure time trial in heat-baked Mar­seille on Satur­day means he needs just one vic­tory more to join the record-hold­ers who have five.

His win­ning mar­gin in this Tour, 54 sec­onds over Rigob­erto Uran of Colom­bia go­ing into to­day’s pro­ces­sional fi­nal stage, is nar­rower than Froome’s pre­vi­ous vic­to­ries in 2013, 2015 and 2016. It is the first he has won by less than one minute.

Over the three weeks, Froome ex­e­cuted fewer of his trade­mark dev­as­tat­ing ac­cel­er­a­tions in the high moun­tains. He ran out of gas and tem­po­rar­ily lost the race lead on a su­per-steep climb in the Pyre­nees. He didn’t win any of the 20 stages be­fore to­day’s Stage 21, which is tra­di­tion­ally a peace­ful ride into Paris with only the sprint­ers dash­ing for the line at the end, for the brag­ging right of win­ning the stage on the Champs-El­y­sees.

But Froome at 90 per­cent or 95 per­cent of his pre­vi­ous best still proved plenty.

Cer­tainly good enough to be able to start dream­ing of vic­tory No. 5 — and of join­ing the ex­alted com­pany of Jac­ques An­quetil, Eddy Mer­ckx, Bernard Hin­ault and Miguel In­durain. They have been the joint lead­ers since Lance Armstrong’s string of seven dop­ing-as­sisted vic­to­ries was ex­punged from the his­tory of the 114-year-old race.

“It’s a huge honor just to be men­tioned in the same sen­tence as the greats,” Froome said. “I have got a new-found ap­pre­ci­a­tion for just how dif­fi­cult it is for those guys to have won five Tour de France. It cer­tainly isn’t get­ting eas­ier each year.”

Yet he made the de­cid­ing time trial look easy enough. To boos and whis­tles from the par­ti­san crowd back­ing Ro­main Bardet, the French rider who was only 23 sec­onds be­hind him in the over­all stand­ings, Froome set off last from the Stade Velo­drome foot­ball sta­dium. Bardet had set off two min­utes ahead of him.

Froome rode so strongly that by the end, he had Bardet in his sights. The French rider wilted on the twist­ing, tricky course with long wind-af­fected straight­aways by the sea and a short sharp up­hill to Notre-Dame de la Garde cathe­dral, the dom­i­nant land­mark in France’s sec­ond-largest city.

The sus­pense was quickly over. By the first time check, af­ter just 6 miles of rid­ing, Froome was al­ready 43 sec­onds quicker than Bardet. The only ques­tion be­came whether Bardet would even be able to save a place for him­self on the podium. He did, by the nar­row­est of mar­gins. Just one sec­ond was all that sep­a­rated his third place from Mikel Landa of Spain, Froome’s team­mate in fourth.

“It’s just an amaz­ing feel­ing,” Froome said. “It was so close com­ing into this TT. This was my clos­est Tour de France, the most hard-fought be­tween the rid­ers … I didn’t think it would come down to this TT in Mar­seille. There was a bit of pres­sure but, for me, it’s al­ways a good thing hav­ing pres­sure.”

Uran was far quicker than Bardet over the 14-mile stage, de­spite over­shoot­ing a left­hand bend be­fore the sta­dium fin­ish and ric­o­chet­ing off bar­ri­ers. He vaulted over Bardet in the over­all stand­ings, into the run­ner-up spot. And with that, the 104th Tour had its podium. All that’s left for the 167 sur­vivors — from 198 who started on July 1 — is to cross the line in Paris.

“To­day I did not take risks, I took all the bends care­fully, you can lose ev­ery­thing on a day like this,” Froome said.

Bardet en­dured his first bad day of the three gru­el­ing weeks. He said he woke up feel­ing poorly on Satur­day, “and I paid for it, in cash.”

Twice a run­ner-up at the Giro d’Italia, Uran added an­other sec­ond-place fin­ish at a Grand Tour to his re­sume.

The time trial was won by Pol­ish rider Ma­ciej Bod­nar, who cov­ered the dis­tance at an av­er­age speed of nearly 30 mph on the spe­cial aero­dy­namic bikes the rid­ers used for the dis­ci­pline. Froome has long ex­celled in it, win­ning Olympic bronzes in 2012 and 2016.

AP/CHRISTOPHE ENA

Bri­tain’s Chris Froome leads Colom­bia’s Rigob­erto Uran by 54 sec­onds with one stage left in the Tour de France.

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