Chris Froome set to become three-time Tour de France winner
Published 23/07/2016 | 20:17
Britain's Chris Froome is set to become a three-time Tour de France winner when the "roller-coaster" of a race ends in Paris on Sunday.
Team Sky's Froome safely negotiated the treacherous descent into Morzine at the end of Saturday's stage 20 from Megeve, won by Jon Izaguirre, and can now look forward to sipping champagne on the traditional procession into Paris on Sunday with a lead of four minutes and five seconds over Frenchman Romain Bardet in his pocket.
The long descent off the Col de Joux Plane is difficult at the best of times but became precarious as heavy rain fell in the late afternoon, and Froome must have wondered if further dramas were about to strike.
Froome has crashed twice while wearing the yellow jersey in this race - including Friday's spill close to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc - somehow increasing his overall lead both times, but his race might forever be remembered for those bizarre images of him running up Mont Ventoux on foot on stage 14.
"It's just an amazing feeling," Froome said. "It could be the first win all over again for me. Those emotions coming down the final descent, the suspense of not putting a foot wrong and making sure we got down there safely.
"Then coming into the final kilometre with my team-mates around me, it's happiness, relief after three weeks of really just every day putting everything on the road."
Froome had been accused of being boring in how he went about winning the Tour in 2013 and 2015, but this year he has been far less predictable.
He took yellow with a surprise downhill attack on stage eight to Bagneres-de-Luchon, then extended his advantage by attacking in the crosswinds on stage 13 to Montpellier, before that unforgettable day on Mont Ventoux.
"It feels like it's been a roller-coaster," Froome said. "There have been amazing moments. I've really taken on the race and made the racing. Attacking on the descent, in the crosswinds and sprinting with Peter Sagan.
"You can't script moments like that, you can't even plan for them and that's bike racing at its best."
The 31-year-old will become only the eighth man, not including the disgraced Lance Armstrong, to win three or more Tours, and is the first to defend the title since Miguel Indurain in 1995.
He will join Philippe Thys, Louison Bobet and Greg LeMond on three victories, and will now have his eyes set on five-time winners Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil and Indurain.
"My focus will stay on the Tour de France," Froome said. "It's such a special race, it would be my dream to keep coming back to the Tour for the next five or six years, just to be on the start line and give it my best shot.
"I've won it three times and I can't say the novelty is wearing off."
However, Froome's more immediate goal is Rio, where he will compete in the Olympic time trial as well as the road race.
"I think it's a course that suits me well," he said of the battle against the clock. "With almost 1,000 metres of climbing and 60km in length it's extremely tough. I took bronze in London and it would be incredible to medal again."
Izaguirre was the last survivor of a 37-man breakaway earlier in the day, racing clear of Vincenzo Nibali and Jarlinson Pantano on the sodden descent to take his first Tour de France stage win.
Froome rolled home four minutes and 18 seconds later, surrounded by the team-mates who have been key to his victory.
Tour director Christian Prudhomme said watching Team Sky was "like watching Paris St Germain, they are so powerful, they always win the championship".
There has not been a home winner of the Tour since Hinault in 1985, and Bardet's second place is only the third for a French rider in 20 years.
Nairo Quintana is set for third place, four minutes and 21 seconds behind Froome. It will be the Colombian's third podium finish in the Tour after the Movistar rider finished second to Froome in 2013 and 2015.
Adam Yates, the 23-year-old Briton, is fourth, four minutes 42 seconds down and safe in the white jersey as the best young rider - the first Briton to wear it in to Paris.
"This is only my second Tour de France and only my third Grand Tour," the Orica-BikeExchange rider said. "For a lot of people it's a dream to ride in the Tour, for me to come in the top 10 or top five, I'm super happy.
"I've learned a lot of things, gained a lot of experience and I'm sure I'll be back in the future to go one step further."
Froome's win is the fourth by a British rider in the past five editions, following on from Sir Bradley Wiggins becoming the first Brit to win the Tour in 2012, when Froome finished second to his team-mate.
British riders have won seven of the 20 stages so far in this Tour - with Froome taking two - to match the record set in that 2012 Tour.
With Mark Cavendish enjoying a day in the yellow jersey after his opening stage win, and Yates claiming the white jersey, this may well rank as the most successful Tour de France in British history.