Froome: Win will stand test of time
Chris Froome said he felt as if he had been through the "battle of his career" after effectively sealing victory in what has been an enthralling but hugely controversial Giro d'Italia, adding that he was confident his result would stand the test of time.
The Team Sky rider, who extended his advantage over Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin to 46 seconds in yesterday's penultimate stage, will make history when he rides in to Rome this evening in the traditional ceremonial finish.
Froome will become the first British winner of the race, in its 101st edition. He will also claim his sixth Grand Tour title after winning four of the last five Tour de France titles as well as last year's Vuelta a Espana.
The records keep tumbling. This win will make Froome the seventh most successful Grand Tour rider in history, as he becomes only the third man in history, after Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, to hold all three Grand Tour titles simultaneously.
Froome could yet be stripped of his Vuelta title, however, and it is his ongoing efforts to clear his name following an adverse analytical finding for salbutamol during that race which is the source of the controversy that continues to swirl around him.
Many - including the president of cycling's world governing body, David Lappartient, and his nearest rival here, Dumoulin - believe Froome should have stepped back from racing pending an outcome to that investigation. The anger felt by some fans has spilled over on occasion.
On Friday, when Froome flipped the race on its head with his incredible solo win from 80km out on the Giro's Queen stage, moving from fourth to first overall, he was accosted by a fan wielding a giant salbutamol inhaler. And yesterday, as he battled with Dumoulin up the final climb, he was spat at by a roadside 'fan'.
"It's something we are dealing with," Froome said. "I have a clear conscience. When the time is right, all the information will be shared with everyone and I am sure people will see it from my point of view."
That cannot come soon enough, with the vacuum being filled by wild speculation and innuendo. After a young rider from LottoNL-Jumbo, George Bennett, joked on Friday night that Froome had "done a Landis" with his spectacular ride on stage 19 - a reference to the disgraced American who was stripped of his Tour title over a decade ago - his comment was seized upon by social media.
"I can understand the parallels of comparisons being drawn by some people," was all Froome would say on the matter. "I have every confidence (this Giro victory) will stand."
After the pyrotechnics of the day before, and by the standards of the race itself, yesterday's stage felt a little flat. No bold attacks from long range, no dramatic crashes. The stage was won by Mikel Nieve from the breakaway. It was apt as the Spaniard is a team-mate of Simon Yates at Mitchelton-Scott and they deserved some good news after a tough 24 hours. It was his birthday, too.
But even Dumoulin's attacks at the finish felt like they lacked real punch.
He, like everyone else, was too exhausted. This has been a brutal race, unforgiving, unrelenting. Grand tours always are. After Yates's implosion on Friday, this Giro claimed a second high-profile victim in as many days yesterday as Thibaut Pinot, third in the general classification, cracked on the Col Saint Pantaleone. He ended up losing 45 minutes.
Froome said he was thankful to have emerged the winner.
"It feels as though this been the battle of my career," he said. "To have got off to a less than ideal start in Jerusalem. There were days with crashes, days where I should have finished in front and I didn't and I lost time. There have just been so many hurdles to overcome in this race.
"But one thing has stayed consistent, which is the support I have received from my team-mates and the support staff. A massive thank you to them for believing in me and keeping the morale up even when the chips were down."