After finishing second to Bradley Wiggins last year, when some speculated he could have challenged for the victory, Kenyan-born Chris Froome is set to become the second British rider in successive years to win the Tour de France when the peloton crosses the line on a
floodlit twilit Avenue des Champs-Élysée later this evening. It’s the 100th edition of Le Tour, which began in 1903.
Even if convention didn’t dictate the final stage to be a procession for the maillot jaune, Froome holds a virtually unassailable 5 min 3 second lead over the rest of the field.
With three stage wins to his name, including an individual time-trial, Froome has clearly been the strongest rider this year – with the strongest team. He had been named as provisional team leader for Sky even before Wiggins ruled himself out of the race this year. Next year Le Tour begins in Yorkshire.
The first seven stages of this year’s tour were shared among the sprinters and break-away riders, team time-trial excepted, with a less invincible than usual Mark Cavendish having to wait until Stage 5 for his first win in this year’s Tour – one of two so far. He’ll be keen to continue his remarkable record on the Champs-Élysée tonight.
The racing got serious as Le Tour entered the Pyrenees on Stage 8. Colombian Nairo Quintana, on the Movistar team, attacked on the slopes of the col de Pailhères, the highest point of the 100th Tour de France, but was caught and passed by the Sky train on the final climb. Froome took the stage and the maillot jaune. With Richie Porte taking over the role Froome played for Wiggins last year, Sky looked set to dominate the race again with Froome in the lead and Porte in second.
That domination seemed to be in doubt after the next stage, Stage 9. Attacked from the outset, Froome shed his team-mates early on and was isolated for most of the stage. But he held his nerve, and the maillot jaune, finishing 14th with the same time as the other General Classification contenders – still 1 minute 25 seconds ahead. Birmingham-born Irish cyclist Dan Martin picked up the stage win. The first Irish rider to win a Tour de France stage since 1992 – when his uncle, Stephen Roche, finished 9th overall.
Froome extended his lead over the other GC contenders in the first time-trial, Stage 11, to 3 minutes 25 seconds with a second place behind Tony Martin.
Cavendish picked up his second stage win on Stage 13. A belter of a stage when individual stage tactics combined with overall GC strategy, and the weather, to create one of the most exciting days of the Tour for years. Cross-winds caused havoc as the peloton splintered and rival teams vied to form the leading echelon. Valverde suffered most, losing ten minutes by the end, and second place overall, after a puncture dropped him out of the fast moving lead group. Froome lost over a minute to his remaining closest rivals on the stage, with Mollema second in GC at 2 minutes 28 seconds.
The Sky rider stamped his authority on this year’s Tour in Stage 15. He climbed away from the rest with astonishing bursts of acceleration to win in yellow on Mount Ventoux on the longest stage in this year’s race. His lead extended to 4 minutes 14 seconds and the others looked to be left to contemplate the battle for second place.
Froome took his third stage win on the second time-trial, Stage 17. Now 4 minutes 34 seconds ahead on Contador, Le Tour leader was heading to a monstrous double climb of Alpe d’Huez.
France celebrated their only stage win this year on that Stage (18), with Riblon passing van Garderen with 2.2 km to go to the summit. Froome was paced to the line by Porte after suffering from sugar depletion, and incurred a 20 second penalty for picking up an energy gel from the team car. But Contador cracked on the second ascent of the Alpe, and Froome’s lead went out again, to 5 minutes 11 seconds.
Sky and Froome marked their rivals on a tricky mountainous Stage 19, and on the final day in the Alps, Stage 20, Froome again demonstrated his strength to hold onto a surging Quintana as the Colombian took his first stage victory, second overall, best young rider, and the King of the Mountains polka-dot jersey. Froome finished third behind Rodriguez, his overall lead now an unassailable 5 minutes 3 seconds with only the trip from Versailles to the Champs-Elysées ahead.
The reign of Sky continues…
Update Mark Cavendish’s lead-out train misfired and he failed to win on the Champs-Élysée for the first time in five years. Sky rolled over the line together with Chris Froome safely in the maillot jaune.