Froome stays cool, vir­tu­ally seals his fourth ti­tle

The Washington Post Sunday - - WASHINGTONPOST.COM/SPORTS - TOUR DE FRANCE BY JOHN LE­ICES­TER AND SA­MUEL PETREQUIN

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

Sewing up his fourth Tour crown with a cool-as-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 record­hold­ers.

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

Over the three weeks, Froome ex­e­cuted fewer of his trade­mark dev­as­tat­ing ac­cel­er­a­tions in the high moun­tains. The Bri­tish rider from Team Sky 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 Sun­day’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 or 95 per­cent of his pre­vi­ous best still proved plenty.

Cer­tainly good enough to be able to start dream­ing of win 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 new­found 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 10 kilo­me­ters (six miles) of rid­ing, Froome was al­ready 43 sec­onds quicker than Bardet. The only ques­tion be­came whether Bardet would 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.

“There was a bit of pres­sure, but for me, it’s al­ways a good thing hav­ing pres­sure,” Froome said.

JEAN-PAUL PELISSIER/REUTERS

Chris Froome rides strongly through the streets of heat-baked Mar­seille, with Notre-Dame de la Garde in the back­ground.

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