Chris Froome has sealed a fourth Tour de France victory on the penultimate stage, stamping his authority on the race in a time-trial on the Marseille streets
In football parlance, there was no penalty shootout as Chris Froome finished third to the stage win, Maciej Bodnar, to seal his fourth Tour de France victory.
With the harsh illumination of Frances south reflecting intensely off the twinkling Mediterranean, this stage resembled a 4-0 win for the three-times Tour champion, who ran up early and had the game in the bag by half-time, hammering home his advantage in the final quarter, as Romain Bardets challenge for the yellow jersey was transformed into a scrap to save his place on the rostrum from Mikel Landa.
Its an amazing feeling, said Froome. There was a lot of pressure coming into the stage with it being so close in the general classification. Its a really fitting route to aim the battle for the Tour de France.
Trailing by 23 seconds at the start of the stage, Bardet was greeted with a vast Ag2R banner as he left the Vlodrome in Marseille. However, by the end his hopes were in rags as he attempted to avoid two humiliating events: losing third place to Landa and being overhauled by Froome, who had started two minutes behind to a chorus of whistles from the stands. Bardets second place overall ran west in the early kilometres in favour of Rigoberto Urn, who aimed up 54 sec behind Froome in the overall stands, the Colombian becoming the surprise package of a Tour that had lost two strong overall contenders in Richie Porte and Jakob Fuglsang.
Froome is set to ride into Paris as the third rider in recent history to win the Tour without taking a stage, following scar Pereiro in 2006 and Greg LeMond in 1990. That did not dull his delight in the slightest, but it befitted a race where the favourites chose to mark one another in the mountains and was decided in the two time-trial stages.
As he sped up the Avenue du Prado in the final kilometres, Froome could see Bardets accompanying automobile a few hundred metres ahead, but the Frenchman hung on, painfully, maintaining the race leader at bay by three seconds, while he did just enough to cling on to third overall by a second from Landa.
Uran rode strongly enough to take eighth on the stage, in spite of a disastrous exit from a late corner where he overshot and had to hold himself up on the barriers, taking a foot out of the pedal as he did so. Further down the stands, Simon Yates retained seventh overall and the white jersey of best young rider recurring last years achievement two brothers, Adam while Alberto Contador overtook the leading climber, Warren Barguil, to move into ninth overall.
The battle for second, third and fourth devoted the stage its stinging, but Froome was above the fray, coming within six seconds of taking the stage from Bodnar, who was lying 116 th overall, and had to wait for two hours and 41 minutes before his victory was corroborated. The 32 -year-old Pole is better known as Peter Sagans principal wingman at Bora-Hansgrohe, his strongest deputy when the wind gets up, and he had come within an superstar of taking the stage to Pau before being overhauled in the final 200 metres by Marcel Kittel. In a Tour of tight margins, he won his stage by a second from his countryman Michal Kwiatkowski, of Team Sky.
Bardet collapsed against a wall within the stadium, barely able to speak even 10 minutes later. I felt a bit delicate after the[ Col d] Izoard, woke up this morning and didnt feel very good, he said. La Marseillaise was played after the finish, but for French fans it had all the feeling of a funeral march.
This was a finale of breathtaking sight, with the riders exiting through one corner of the Vlodrome and returning through the opposite corner a little less than half an hour later. They did so on a specially laid roadway, 15 centimetres thick, to be ripped up as soon as the Tour bade farewell, with a new layer of turf brought in by refrigerated lorry to be laid for the start of the new football season.
Up above as they sped briefly through were the vaulting heights of the stands one named after the Marseillais track racer Gustave Ganay below the magnificent curved roof erected for last years European Championship. Up above hung a vast yellow jersey. In its style, it was every bit as impressive as the Tours great outdoor stadium; the Casse Dserte on the Izoard or the glowering heights of Mont Ventoux.
In place of the rain that had turned the commencement of the stage into a game of Russian roulette, here the heat beat down gently, prompting the riders to warm up in ice-pack vests to keep their core temperature down.
There were still minor incidents: a accident for the French national day trial champion, Pierre-Roger Latour, a puncture for the Serre-Chevalier stage winner and pre-stage favourite, Primoz Roglic, but nothing on the scale of the demolition in Dsseldorf that had launched a Tour that was only ever counted in seconds.
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