Froome Rides To Victory In 100th Tour de France
PARIS -- Chris Froome won the 100th Tour de France on Sunday, having dominated rivals over three weeks on the road and adroitly dealt with doping suspicions off it.
In two years, Britain has now had two different winners: Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and then Froome, a cooler, calmer, more understated but no less determined character than his Sky teammate with famous sideburns.
Froome rode into Paris in style -- in the canary yellow race leader's jersey he took on Stage 8 in the Pyrenees and never relinquished, vigorously fending off rivals whose concerted challenges turned this Tour into a thriller. Froome and his Sky teammates linked arms as they rode for the line.
The 100th edition was visually stunning, too, starting with a first-ever swing through Corsica, France's so-called "island of beauty," before veering through the Pyrenees to Brittany and then across France to the race's crescendo in the Alps -- 2,115 grueling miles in total.
Uniquely, the 100th Tour treated itself to a late-afternoon start for its final Stage 21 so the riders raced a few hours later on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees as the sun cast golden hues over the peloton and the shadows lengthened over the dense, cheering crowds.
After setting off from the magnificent Versailles Palace, the former residence of three kings and their seat of power until the French revolution of 1789, the riders were granted the privilege of meandering through the chateau's manicured gardens, past lakes like mirrors, spurting fountains and statues looking on stonily.
As per tradition and because Froome's big race lead made him untouchable, Sunday's 82-mile final ride was a largely leisurely affair until the pace picked up sharply on the Champs-Elysees. Marcel Kittel won the final sprint on that famous avenue, the German's sprinter's fourth stage win of this Tour.
Riders pedaled up to Froome to offer congratulations; he sipped from a flute of champagne as he rode; a Tour organizer stuck an arm from his car window to shake Froome's hand. Peter Sagan colored his beard green to celebrate the green jersey he won for picking up the most points in sprints over the three weeks.
"It's a dream to arrive in yellow on the Champs-Elysees," Froome said before leading the pack from Versailles. "C'est formidable."
Nairo Quintana, the 23-year-old Colombian who secured second place behind Froome with an impressive win on Saturday's penultimate Stage 20, laughed as third-placed Joaquim Rodriguez tried to spark up a cigar in the saddle. The wind seemed to snuff out his lighter.
Neither Froome, Quintana nor Rodriguez have ever failed a drug test or been directly implicated in any of cycling's litany of doping scandals. That is an encouraging and notable departure both from the era of Lance Armstrong and many other Tour podiums before and since.
Froome's clear physical superiority made him overwhelming favorite going into the Tour and carried him through it. His winning margin of more than 5 minutes was the largest since 1997, when Jan Ullrich -- who has since admitted to doping -- beat Richard Virenque -- who also confessed to using performance-enhancers -- by 9 minutes and 9 seconds.
Armstrong had larger margins of victory than Froome but all seven of the Texan's wins were stripped from him last year for serial doping. In the Tour's official history book, his name has literally been crossed out.
As the first Tour champion since that shockwave, Froome rode through a barrage of doubt and skepticism, especially since his strength in the mountains and time trials reminded some observers of Armstrong and the way he and his team used to suffocate the race.
Froome's three stage victories -- in the Pyrenees, on Mont Ventoux in Provence and in a mountainous trial -- were the most for a Tour winner since Armstrong got five in 2004, results now annulled.
Unlike some other riders who cut short questions about doping and bristled, Froome said he was happy to discuss the issue that has so poisoned his sport. He insisted he rode clean and said he, too, felt let down by his cheating predecessors.
Froome argued that his success demonstrates that cycling's anti-doping system -- now among the most rigorous, invasive and sustained of any sport -- must be working, because otherwise he wouldn't be able to win.
At 28, Froome is entering his peak years as a bike racer. His prowess on climbs and in time trials gives him the essential ingredients to win more Tours. At Sky, he's backed by one of the best-funded, organized and smartest teams.
Froome also had the sprinkling of good luck riders need to win the Tour. He only grazed his knee when he hit a kerb and fell at the start of the Tour, on Stage 1, and he avoided a pile-up that fractured the pelvis of his teammate, Geraint Thomas, who gritted his teeth and continued to Paris.
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