Tour de France 2017
Team Sky’s Froome will ride into Paris for Sunday’s final stage with a 54-second advantage over his nearest rival, the Colombian Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac, after putting on an imperious display in yellow on the sunny streets of Marseille.
Froome almost caught Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2R-La Mondiale) as he entered the Stade Velodrome to come home in third on the day, six seconds behind winner Maciej Bodnar of Poland.
After a harrowing half-hour in the saddle, the embattled Bardet dropped to third place in the general classification but retained his place on the podium by just one slender second on Froome’s team-mate, the Spaniard Mikel Landa.
“It’s an amazing feeling to finish it off now,” an ecstatic Froome told reporters. “There was a lot of pressure coming into today’s stage with it being so close on general classification. But it’s an amazing atmosphere here in Marseille and it’s a really fitting way to end the battle for GC in this year’s Tour, which was always going to be such a close-fought battle.”
A third Sky rider – the indefatigable domestique Michal Kwiatkowski – showed his class by posting the second best time over the challenging 22.5km course, finishing one second behind his fellow Pole Bodnar of Bora-Hansgrohe.
World time trial champion Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) could only ride to fourth place, 14 seconds down on Bodnar, who pulled out all the stops on a course that started and finished in the Stade Velodrome, and featured cobbles, a steep double-digit climb and a parade along the Mediterranean seafront.
“I still can’t believe it,” Bodnar, 32, told the media after the first Grand Tour stage win of his career.
“I was feeling good today but then I had to wait every minute as they showed every rider – Kwiatkowski, of course, and then I was waiting for Froomey because he’s really good in time trial. But I got this.”
Starting to a chorus of boos in front of the partisan French crowd, Froome almost made up two minutes on Bardet, who had started the day as the 32-year-old’s nearest rival.
After a nail-biting ride to the finish, Froome was practically breathing down Bardet’s neck on the home straight – but the Frenchman held off the yellow jersey and did just enough to secure a second successive place on the podium in Paris.
Trailing Froome by 23 seconds before Stage 20, Bardet dropped to 2’20” down on the champion elect, with Landa one second back and the Italian Fabio Aru (Astana) in fifth at 3’05”.
Uran moved above Bardet on GC after posting the eighth best time on the day – despite almost crashing on the final bend before re-entering the Stade Velodrome. It will be the third time the 30-year-old former Sky rider has finished runner-up on a Grand Tour after finishing second in the Giro d’Italia in both 2013 and 2014.
Ireland’s Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) did enough to stay in sixth place on GC while British youngster Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) secured the white jersey and a seventh place finish in Paris ahead of the South African Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates).
Spanish veteran Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) put in a solid performance in what may have been his final appearance in a Tour time trial. His sixth place, 21 seconds down on Bodnar, saw the former two-time Tour winner rise above Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) into ninth place.
Frenchman Barguil – a double stage winner on Bastille Day and atop the Col d’Izoard – was all smiles as he secured his place in the top ten and the polka dot king of the mountains classification. Meanwhile, his team-mate Michael Matthews took things easy in the green jersey ahead of Sunday’s final sprint – where he will target a third stage win on the Champs-Elysees.
Until the final sprint showdown, Sunday’s Stage 21 to Paris is typically ceremonial and is unlikely to see Froome challenged – meaning the British rider will be crowned Tour champion for the fourth time in five years. It will be Team Sky’s fifth Tour victory since Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the world’s biggest bike race – with a little help from Froome – in 2012.