Monday 20 November 2017

Froome on top of the world as Quintana shows his potential

Christopher Froome of Britain, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, drinks a glass of champagne at his team car during the 21st and last stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France
Christopher Froome of Britain, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, drinks a glass of champagne at his team car during the 21st and last stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France

Alasdair Fotheringham

Chris Froome completed his decade-long journey from the back roads of Kenya riding an MTB bike as a kid to the pinnacle of world cycling as he claimed his maiden Tour de France victory – and Britain and Team Sky's second in a row.

A quick glance at the overall classification of the Tour confirms that – once again, as with Bradley Wiggins last year – this was no opportunistic triumph. Froome's lead of five minutes and three seconds over second-placed Nairo Quintana, the dazzlingly talented Colombian climber who looks set to be one of his top challengers next year, is the biggest winning margin since 2004.

Neither Quintana nor Joaquim Rodriguez could challenge the 28-year-old Sky rider this year. The man who arguably tried the hardest to meet Froome head-on, arch-rival Alberto Contador, paid the highest price for his refusal to accept the Sky leader's domination, and finished fourth.

There are three stage wins, too, in the bag for Froome – one of them on Mont Ventoux, France's single hardest climb, where Froome effectively made the Tour his to lose. And even when he thought he would not have a chance of victory, in last week's time trial at Gap, Froome still won: he was that good.

His domination was such that he came within a whisker of taking the King of the Mountains title, too. After runner-up finishes in the 2012 Tour and the Vuelta a Espana in 2011 already to his name, Froome is confirmed as the new king of stage racing. And he is far from ruling out future Tours either.

"The experience of everything I've done building up to here has really been a massive learning curve, as much as this Tour itself has been," Froome said. "It would be a shame not to carry that experience forwards and use it in future editions.

"If I look at my career now and at what my ambitions are as a pro cyclist, to come and target the Tour again has got to be my biggest goal. And to be able to do that year after year through your prime period has got to be my main focus.

"I'm pretty well balanced in terms of I can time-trial pretty well, I can climb pretty well... I can't see what else they can put in the Tour that I would struggle with."

However, Froome (right) is not the only rider to have had a breakthrough: the man who stood closest to him on the podium, Colombia's Quintana, was just as impressive. The winner of the final mountain stage, second overall and Best Young Rider would be an impressive enough debut for the 23-year-old Movistar rider, the first rider to stand on the podium of the Tour in his maiden race since Jan Ullrich in 1996. Quintana is also the youngest rider to win the King of the Mountains jersey since legendary climber Charly Gaul in 1955, who won it aged 22. And Quintana is the first to net two second classifications, too, since a certain Eddy Merckx did so in 1969. Watch this space.

But if Quintana is perhaps the future of the Tour de France, there is no question who dominates its present. On the wider scale, Froome's victory reinforces Britain's position as one of the superpowers in road-racing.

This was not begun by Sky, but was a development initiated by Mark Cavendish when he won multiple stages of the Giro and Tour in 2008 and continued by Wiggins, with Garmin, with his podium finish in the Tour in 2009.

Froome's long journey from the Kenya dirt tracks via a South African university education and racing in Italy in his early professional years is a story of what cycling's bigwigs like to call mondialisation.

If Quintana's second place sees Latin America return to cycling's blue riband race at its highest level ever, in the same Tour that saw a South African, Daryl Impey, wear the yellow jersey, Froome's victory represents a huge breakthrough for a new continental player in the sport.

Meanwhile, Dan Martin was 97th in Saturday's stage and 123rd yesterday to finish 33rd in the overall GC. In a thrilling Paris climax, Marcel Kittel took the stage, just ahead of Andre Greipel with Mark Cavendish third. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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