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Froome's fourth a Tour de force

China Daily | Updated: 2017-07-25 07:43

Tenacious Team Sky star counts latest triumph as toughest yet

PARIS - After the champagne bubbles fade and Chris Froome drifts away from his celebrations to reflect on a fourth Tour de France win, he may do so with greater fondness than was the case with his other triumphs.

The first, in 2013, brought the bursting pride of a first success. But he won by more than four minutes, as he did last year. Although Nairo Quintana finished a little over a minute behind him in 2015, this year's victory - by just 54 seconds - over another Colombian, Rigoberto Uran, tastes sweeter.

"This Tour has been my toughest yet," Froome said on Sunday.

Froome's fourth a Tour de force

Briton Chris Froome, of Team Sky, holds the winner's trophy and a bouquet after winning the Tour de France for the fourth time in Paris, on Sunday. Christophe Ena / AP

On July 14 he temporarily lost the race lead to daring Italian Fabio Aru in the Pyrenees on a huge climb to the ski station of Peyragudes, and thought he'd lost it altogether two days later.

In Rodez, he was forced to change his rear wheel in the final 40 kilometers after a spoke broke. He got dropped, drifting way behind the peloton.

"I was just standing there on the side of the road with my teammate Michal Kwiatkowski," Froome said. "I thought it was potentially game over."

Riding with unchained fury, Kwiatkowski and Froome bridged the gap - and saved his Tour.

Fast forward to Saturday's penultimate stage in Marseille and a time trial - one of his strongest disciplines. Froome was right back in the ascendency and closing in on win No 4.

Yet the future champion was jeered by fans at Stade Velodrome soccer stadium as he began his ride, and more jeers followed along the route.

Froome had urine thrown at him on a previous Tour due to doping allegations, so booing was hardly going to unsettle him. He was almost chivalrous on the podium on Sunday, addressing fans in admirable French.

"Thank you for the welcome and your generosity," he said, with unintentional irony. "Your passion for this race makes it really special. I fell in love with this race."

This was the third straight win for the Team Sky rider.

"I want to dedicate this victory to my family. Your love and support makes everything possible," Froome added. "I also want to thank my team Sky for its dedication and passion."

Frenchman Romain Bardet placed 2 minutes, 20 seconds behind him in third, denying Spaniard Mikel Landa - Froome's teammate - a podium spot by a second. Aru finished fifth, 3:05 behind.

As per tradition, the 21st stage - 103 km from Montgeron to Paris - was reserved for sprinters and a procession for the rest. Dutchman Dylan Groenewegen won, edging German rider Andre Greipel and Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen.

The focus was elsewhere.

Froome now needs only one more title to match the Tour record of five shared by Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Belgian Eddie Merckx and Spaniard Miguel Indurain.

"It's a huge honor to be talked about in the same sentence," Froome said of those cycling greats.

However, the Kenya-born Brit admitted he is not well grounded in the race's past.

"I probably don't even know the full history of those events," he said.

"Coming into cycling quite late in my life, obviously my childhood back in Africa, I only started watching the Tour de France in the years that Lance Armstrong was racing."

Indurain won five straight Tours from 1991-95, and Armstrong won seven in a row from 1999-2005 before the American was stripped of all of them for doping.

Clearly, 32-year-old Froome isn't one to seek inspiration elsewhere.

"I'm not a big person to necessarily choose a role model," he said. "I've got a bit of a unique style on the bike and my own way of doing things."

That included ruthlessly putting more time into Uran and Bardet in Saturday's time trial.

Some might say Froome did not shine too brightly because he didn't win a stage, but neither did American Greg Lemond when clinching his third Tour in 1990.

For Froome, consistency and a dogged ability to respond under pressure were the keys.

So was overcoming fear.

Notably in tackling speedy downhill sections that once filled him with the equivalent of an actor's stage fright. Some used to prod at his fear, the way a schoolyard bully senses weakness.

No longer.

Froome zipped downhill with new-found confidence.

"Something I've certainly worked on the last few years is my descending," he said.

Bardet lost his second place after a nightmare time trial, crawling home in near-exhaustion.

Astonishingly, Bardet revealed he found training for the clock race too dull to bother with.

"I don't like to go out for training with the time-trial bike," the 26-year-old said. "It's a bit boring for me."

You wouldn't catch Froome skipping training. Then again, his dedication is higher than most.

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