Chris Froome of Team Sky will win his second Tour de France in three years tomorrow in Paris after a steady, calm chase of his main rival Nairo Quintana of Movistar that had Froome playing defense all the way to the summit of Alpe d'Huez. Quintana escaped and put time into Froome for the second consecutive day, but ran out of road, or energy, and will now run out of opportunities to reverse his entire deficit to the steady Froome. Quintana took second on the stage, gaining 1.20 on Froome, but that left the Kenyan-born Brit more than a minute in hand.
Quintana finished behind Thibaut Pinot of FDJ, who outlasted a trio of compatriot escapees as well as Quintana's assault on the Alpe, and reeled in Pinot's teammate Alexandre Geniez, who was alone in the lead from the summit of the day's initial climb up the Croix de Fer. Geniez looked like a potential winner, and Pinot only reluctantly chased, allowing others to do the work to reel in Geniez. Among those was Ryder Hesjedal of Cannondale, who ultimately survived to bridge up to Geniez with Pinot, after which the two traded blows for much of the final climb before the Canadian dropped back. Quintana also steadily closed in on Pinot, but never had him in his sights as the gradient slackened in the final two km. With the victory Pinot in fact is now the third consecutive home-country rider to take the win in an Alpe d'Huez Tour stage, threatening to rename the slope "French Mountain."
Quintana attacked shortly after the climb began, and while Froome's impressive team dragged the Colombian back the first two times, Quintana slipped the noose on his third try and mounted a desperate, exciting challenge to Froome's established supremacy at this Tour. As it had earlier in the day, this attack followed an escape by his Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde, enabling the duo to ride together in their last-ditch attempt to put Froome behind them. Valverde remained with Quintana for 2km until his legs gave, at which point Quintana picked up another teammate, and countryman, Winner Anacona, who was part of the Pinot/Hesjedal group. Anacona dropped Quintana off at the 5km mark whereupon the Maillot Blanc accelerated and opened up his lead over Froome from 30 seconds to more than a minute. But with Richie Porte and Wout Poels assisting him nearly all the way to the summit, Froome refused to panic, kept a steady pace, and limited his losses with ease.
Ultimately, the conventional wisdom proved correct -- there was scarcely more than a minute available to Quintana on the final climb, nowhere near enough for him to overcome Froome and win the Tour. Knowing this, Movistar attempted to hit out at Froome on the Col de la Croix de Fer ascent, where Alejandro Valverde ignited the action with a solo attack 3km from the summit, and was joined a few minutes later by Quintana, who accelerated around Froome with relative ease. This put Team Sky on the defensive, and cost Froome the support of Nicolas Roche, though Richie Porte helped keep the gap to the Movistar duo under control, and when he faltered Froome was able to do the rest, rejoining them just at the summit. Ultimately little was accomplished apart from a demonstration that Movistar have plans to attack and that Quintana could drop Froome for a short time anyway.
For Quintana, it's a mixed result. On the down side, he lost the Tour, or failed to win it in the Alps, and has to start over to figure out how he can make it to the third week of the Tour without dropping time along the way. Froome put two minutes into Quintana in the first three stages of the Tour in Holland and Belgium, with steady and attentive riding behind his well-prepared team. That deficit, compounded by the loss of an additional minute in the Pyrénées, cost Quintana the Tour, putting him too far in arrears before he took flight in week three. This is Quintana's second-consecutive second-place finish in the Tour, both times by gaps that shrank every day of the final few stages but not quickly enough. To date the Colombian has only lost to one rider in a Tour -- Froome -- which is an incredible start to his career. But Froome isn't going away anytime soon, and Quintana will be hard-pressed to win a Tour de France on the basis of climbing alone.
Froome, meanwhile, has earned a huge serving of respect over the roads of France, with a performance that puts to rest any doubts about his all-around worthiness. While his first victory was forged in the time trials and to some degree the high mountains, this one was won on the flats, in crosswinds, on cobbles and finally in the mountains. Froome was strong and attentive every day, leaving nothing to chance, stealing seconds when they were there and never letting his closest rivals out of his sight for long. Froome will also become the first rider since 1968 (Eddy Merckx) to win both the yellow jersey and the King of the Mountains title, a reflection of his strength on the climbs as well as the competitive nature of this Tour de France. Sky will spend the next couple years helping him extend his growing legacy, if he and they can. Froome knows that he can count on continued excellence, even as the names on his team change, as Sky continued to prove they can play the full team game all the way to Paris for a third time in four years.
Disappointment was the note for AG2R, who sought both stage success and the polka dot jersey. However, Romain Bardet could not accumulate any points on either climb to prevent Froome from moving past him in the final classification. Only Quintana could take it from the Brit, had he gone past Pinot for first place points at Alpe d'Huez, but Pinot prevented that from happening.
Finally, not to be overlooked is the third place of Valverde. The Green Bullet will climb onto the podium in Paris for the first time in his storied career. He is a former winner and regular challenger at the Vuelta a España, but had never risen higher than fourth overall, last year. Now, at age 35, Valverde has accomplished a career goal, as well as securing Movistar a second podium place. Valverde earned his place by more than three minutes over defending champion Vincenzo Nibali of Astana with aggressive climbing that was rarely if ever at odds with his responsibilities as Quintana's teammate and lieutenant. Valverde may not be a popular rider and had plenty left to prove as a Tour de France aspirant, but if this is his career best in France, he can say he rode a very respectable Tour.
|1.||FRAPINOT Thibaut||21||FDJ||03h 17' 21''|
|2.||COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander||51||MOVISTAR TEAM||03h 17' 39''||+ 00' 18''|
|3.||CANHESJEDAL Ryder||164||TEAM CANNONDALE-GARMIN||03h 18' 02''||+ 00' 41''|
|4.||ESPVALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro||59||MOVISTAR TEAM||03h 18' 59''||+ 01' 38''|
|5.||GBRFROOME Christopher||31||TEAM SKY||03h 18' 59''||+ 01' 38''|
|6.||FRAROLLAND Pierre||121||TEAM EUROPCAR||03h 19' 02''||+ 01' 41''|
|7.||AUSPORTE Richie||35||TEAM SKY||03h 19' 32''||+ 02' 11''|
|8.||COLANACONA GOMEZ Winner Andrew||52||MOVISTAR TEAM||03h 19' 53''||+ 02' 32''|
|9.||NEDPOELS Wouter||34||TEAM SKY||03h 20' 11''||+ 02' 50''|
|10.||ESPPLAZA MOLINA Ruben||156||LAMPRE - MERIDA||03h 20' 11''||+ 02' 50''|
KOM Stage Points
Croix de Fer
|1.||FRAGENIEZ Alexandre||25||FDJ||25 pts|
|2.||LTUNAVARDAUSKAS Ramunas||168||TEAM CANNONDALE-GARMIN||20 pts|
|3.||FRAEDET Nicolas||172||COFIDIS, SOLUTIONS CREDITS||16 pts|
|4.||DENBAK Lars||72||LOTTO-SOUDAL||14 pts|
|5.||COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander||51||MOVISTAR TEAM||12 pts|
|1.||FRAPINOT Thibaut||21||FDJ||50 pts|
|2.||COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander||51||MOVISTAR TEAM||40 pts|
|3.||CANHESJEDAL Ryder||164||TEAM CANNONDALE-GARMIN||32 pts|
|4.||ESPVALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro||59||MOVISTAR TEAM||28 pts|
|5.||GBRFROOME Christopher||31||TEAM SKY||24 pts|
|1.||GBRFROOME Christopher||31||TEAM SKY||81h 56' 33''|
|2.||COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander||51||MOVISTAR TEAM||81h 57' 45''||+ 01' 12''|
|3.||ESPVALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro||59||MOVISTAR TEAM||82h 01' 58''||+ 05' 25''|
|4.||ITANIBALI Vincenzo||1||ASTANA PRO TEAM||82h 05' 09''||+ 08' 36''|
|5.||ESPCONTADOR Alberto||41||TINKOFF-SAXO||82h 06' 21''||+ 09' 48''|
|6.||NEDGESINK Robert||131||TEAM LOTTO NL - JUMBO||82h 07' 20''||+ 10' 47''|
|7.||NEDMOLLEMA Bauke||141||TREK FACTORY RACING||82h 11' 47''||+ 15' 14''|
|8.||SUIFRANK Mathias||181||IAM CYCLING||82h 12' 12''||+ 15' 39''|
|9.||FRABARDET Romain||12||AG2R LA MONDIALE||82h 12' 33''||+ 16' 00''|
|10.||FRAROLLAND Pierre||121||TEAM EUROPCAR||82h 14' 03''||+ 17' 30''|
|1.||GBRFROOME Christopher||31||TEAM SKY||119 pts|
|2.||COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander||51||MOVISTAR TEAM||108 pts|
|3.||FRABARDET Romain||12||AG2R LA MONDIALE||90 pts|
|4.||FRAPINOT Thibaut||21||FDJ||82 pts|
|5.||ESPRODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joachim||91||TEAM KATUSHA||78 pts|
All photos Doug Pensinger, Getty Images