Chris Froome of Sky confirmed that he will win his third consecutive and fourth overall Tour de France with a third place in the Marseille time trial, six seconds off the pace of stage winner Maceij Bodnar of Bora-Hansgrohe and comfortably ahead of his closest competition, who never threatened to take the Yellow Jersey off the Englishman’s back. Froome left little doubt from the moment he rolled down the ramp that he was not vulnerable to losing the race, even with a mere 23-second cushion to start the day. He was a second behind the best time at the first checkpoint and three seconds off the stage-winning pace at the second, while his closest competitors slipped backwards.
Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale easily reversed a six-second deficit to leapfrog over AG2R’s Romain Bardet and move into second place overall, while the Frenchman waged a tense, thrilling battle with Sky’s Mikel Landa to hold on to the final podium spot, a feat Bardet managed by a single solitary second. Landa, who had been coming on strong over the last half of the Tour despite serving as a domestique to Froome, had enough left in his legs to finish 15th on the stage, 51 seconds in arrears, which placed the Frenchman under immense pressure. But Bardet responded by skirting the barriers and stomping on the pedals, looking utterly shattered as he dragged himself over the stage climb at Notre Dame de la Garde, a short wall of a climb that was no small obstacle to guys on aero bikes with heavy gearing. With the crowd at the Orange Velodrome screaming, Bardet kept himself upright and slipped over the line in 52nd place, 2.03 behind Bodnar and shipping 1.12 of his 1.13 lead over Landa. In other words, not a moment too soon.
Bodnar’s stage victory was perpetually in doubt. He rolled out some two hours before the overall leaders and set the best time at each checkpoint, and 14 seconds up on world champion Tony Martin. He then sweated out a ride from Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski, who edged Bodnar for best time at both checkpoints but lost the stage by one second. Bodnar’s task got easier when Movistar’s Jonathan Castroviejo crashed in the first corner of the course. And it became a done deal when Froome, coming close at the checkpoints, rode conservatively enough to preserve his overall well-being. For the Pole, it’s a career-best result, compared to his menu of time-trial wins on much smaller stages. And for his team, it is the second stage success, after Peter Sagan’s win on stage three. Hopefully it erases some of the bitter taste the team has lived with since Sagan was ejected from the race as a result of a crash incident in week 1.
The 30-year-old Uran will chalk up a career-best performance tomorrow when he rolls into Paris in second place, matching his placement in two Giri d’Italia but on the bigger French stage. It also sets the high-water mark for the Cannondale-Drapac which had previously placed riders (VandeVelde and Wiggins) as high as fourth in the Tour but no higher. Uran also notched his first Tour stage victory and will go down as the biggest surprise at this year’s race, having never finished better than 23rd overall in France.
Bardet, meanwhile, will fall just short of defending the second place he achieved at the 2016 Tour de France, but the home crowd won’t care much after his riveting performance, since he remains on the podium. It’s worth noting too that Bardet’s deficit to Froome of 2.20 is close to half of the more than four minutes he lost by last year, so while the podium steps suggest otherwise, the 26-year-old Auvergnois can view his performance as an improvement toward his goal of overall victory.
French fans will also feel satisfied seeing their riders match Germany (in the sole person of Marcel Kittel) with five stage wins, including Bardet once in the Pyrenees, Warren Barguil on two major mountain stages, and sole wins for Lilian Calmejane and Arnaud Demare as well. Barguil will remain in the top ten, slipping behind two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador today but retaining both tenth place and his coveted King of the Mountains jersey. While the Breton does not fancy himself for the overall at a grand tour, his legs suggested otherwise for a few days in the Alps.
Froome’s win ends the insurgent and unlikely challenges to his well-worn throne and puts him, however shakily, on the precipice of joining the most elite club in cycling, that of five-time Tour de France winners, with members limited to Merckx, Anquetil, Indurain and Hinault. His expected 54-second victory is far less than the four-plus minutes he won by last year, and less than the 1.12 margin he held over Nairo Quintana in 2015, his previously closest scare. Froome rarely looked like a guy who could dispatch his rivals like a Patron, but rather more like someone who himself would not be dropped, and who held a couple aces in the time trials that nobody could take off of him. So his chances of a fifth win are hardly assured, though just as hardly a distant dream. Until someone rips the maillot jaune off his back, Froome will remain the sport’s dominant figure.
- BODNAR Maciej, BOH, 00:28:15
2. KWIATKOWSKI Michal, SKY, 00:00:01
3. FROOME Christopher, SKY, 00:00:06
4. MARTIN Tony, KAT, 00:00:14
5. IMPEY Daryl, ORS, 00:00:20
6. CONTADOR VELASCO Alberto, TFS, 00:00:21
7. ARNDT Nikias, SUN, 00:00:28
8. URAN URAN Rigoberto, CDT, 00:00:31
9. KÜNG Stefan, BMC, 00:00:34
10. CHAVANEL Sylvain, DEN, 00:00:37
11. BAUER Jack, EQS, 00:00:41
12. SÜTTERLIN Jasha, MOV, 00:00:42
13. POLITT Nils, KAT, 00:00:43
14. ROGLIC Primoz, TLJ, 00:00:49
15. LANDA MEANA Mikel, SKY, 00:00:51
16. GALLOPIN Tony, LTS, 00:00:56
17. PHINNEY Taylor, CDT, 00:01:06
18. KIRYIENKA Vasil, SKY, 00:01:07
19. BARGUIL Warren, SUN, 00:01:09
20. VUILLERMOZ Alexis, ALM, 00:01:11