The stage is set
Chris Froome survives last Alpine climb to hold the lead entering final day of race.
alpe d’huez, france — Feeling like he was “dying a thousand deaths,” Chris Froome started to think a secondTour de France victory might be melting away like the patches of snow on surrounding Alpine peaks.
Up ahead, already out of sight on the 21 hairpin bends lined by frenzied spectators, Froome’s biggest rival at this Tour and those to come, Nairo Quintana, was flying, out of his saddle, getting away.
Grimly, Froome clung on. Following the wheels of two teammates who led him up cycling’s most iconic climb to the Alpe d’Huez ski station, he passed — barely — the last big test before the three-week race rolls to its finish in Paris on Sunday.
This wasn’t the dominant Froome whose powerful performances in the Pyrenees seemed, to some skeptics, reminiscent of dope cheats who did so much damage to the Tour. This was just a man, fighting pain, fighting the mountain, fighting to survive.
“There was a moment where I felt this could go either way,” the British rider said.
“I was onmy absolute limits. I was dying a thousand deaths.”
Quintana was outstanding on the storied ascent, piling on speed in his last real opportunity to unseat the race leader. Over his radio, Froome’s Team Sky updated him on the Colombian’s progress as he scythed through fans waving flares and smoke bombs.
“We were getting time checks every few minutes,” Froome said. “It was comforting to see it wasn’t suddenly jumping by 30 seconds each time. It was slowly moving up five, 10 seconds at a time.”
Thibaut Pinot won Saturday’s Stage 20, the third French victory of this Tour. But it was Quintana’s bold last assault and Froome’s tenacious defense that provided the thrilling finale to a spectacular race.
The 1-minute, 12-second lead Froome preserved over Quintana will see him crowned the winner on the Champs-Elysees.
“An amazing, amazing feeling,” he said.
Froome essentially won this Tour on the first big climbs in the Pyrenees in the second week when, closely followed by teammate Richie Porte, he triumphed at the La Pierre-Saint-Martin ski station to give him a big time cushion. He picked that climb weeks earlier in training as the place to make his move.
That decisive blow carried Froome through those mountains and the hilly Massif Central region on the way to the Alps and — with the exception of Quintana — resigned other contenders to fight for second and third.
Ultimately, Quintana left himself too much to do on the last of four days in the Alps. Just as in 2013, he will finish runnerup again to Froome.
Quintana said time lost in the first week cost him dearly.
Still, he said: “Second at the Tour de France isn’t half-bad.”
At age 25, Quintana’s future is ahead. He again will win the white jersey as the Tour’s best young rider.
Quintana’s Movistar teammate, Alejandro Valverde, will take third overall, 5:25 back.