MONTGERON, France, Jul 23 – Kenyan-born Briton Chris Froome will take another step towards emulating the Tour de France’s greatest champions when he rides into Paris on Sunday to clinch his fourth victory in cycling’s most celebrated race.
And in a nod to history, Sunday’s 21st and final stage will start in Montgeron, where the very first Tour de France began 114 years ago.
The 32-year-old Briton finished third in Saturday’s 22.5km time-trial in Marseille to effectively secure a 54-second overall victory ahead of Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran.
Now, only Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain — all with five wins — have won more Tours than Froome.
“I’m not much of a person for looking back. Of course to have won it once (in 2013), the novelty was to be a Tour de France winner — that was massive,” he said.
“To come back and try to do it again the second time (in 2015) made it count even more.
“To do it consecutively last year for the first time — two in a row — was the big drive.
“For me now to have done it again, a fourth title, I never dreamed of being up there or even coming close to Eddy Merkcx, Anquetil or Indurain.
“It’s amazing to be in this position, it’s such a privilege.”
It may have been the tightest victory of Froome’s Tour successes but there was little to suggest he won’t go on to match the record next year and even beat it in the future.
– ‘Most satisfying’ –
His top rivals Uran and Frenchman Romain Bardet have improved enough to match him in the mountains, but he still retains a significant edge in time-trials.
His winning margin was 54 seconds but he actually gained 1min 16sec with respect to Uran in the two time-trial stages.
Bardet finished third at 2:20 but gave up 2:36 in the two races against the clock.
For Sky team principal Dave Brailsford, it was the finest team effort yet for a squad that also won the team competition for the first time, despite winning the yellow jersey in five of the last six years.
“We’ve won this race a few times now,” he told Sky Sports.
“It was the best team performance… and I think this will be the most satisfying performance of the team’s and certainly my career.”
– ‘bit relieved’ –
It won’t just be Froome and Sky celebrating on Sunday, though.
Frenchman Warren Barguil will be crowned king of the mountains, Australia’s Michael Matthews top sprinter and Simon Yates of Britain best young rider.
The white jersey will therefore remain in the same household for another 12 months as Yates’s twin brother Adam won it last year.
“I’m really happy. A little bit relieved. I really wanted to come here and take this jersey and to pull it off is absolutely fantastic,” Yates said.
The only remaining issue to resolve is who will win the 21st and final stage of this year’s race, a 103km ride from Montgeron to the Champs-Elysees in Paris.
It will be a less arduous effort than the first time a stage started in Montgeron in 1903 when the very first Tour participants set off on a 470km trek to Lyon that finished the following morning and was won by Maurice Garin, who would never relinquish the yellow jersey over the Tour’s six stages.
German Andre Greipel won on the Champs-Elysees the last two years but has yet to win a stage in this edition, while Matthews has claimed two.
“We have another opportunity so I think everyone is going to be really focused on it,” said Matthews.