The last few years have been very enjoyable as a British cycling fan. From watching Mark Cavendish establish himself as possibly the greatest sprinter of all time, to seeing Bradley Wiggins come to the fore after an incredible Olympic career establishing himself as a pro & then last year claiming the ultimate prize of victory in the Tour de France. That took me a little by surprise, as a Brit we are conditioned to expect our cycling greats to fall short when it comes to taking on the worlds best. Wiggin’s victory was great, but ultimately it was very efficient, not taking away from it, but it didn’t capture my attention like I would have expected it to. The Olympics were great, but when it comes to cycling, the tour is were it is at for me.
Which brings me to today, to Chris Froome & maybe my favourite Tour ride of all time. It was Indurain-esq, the kind of ride I have loved watching over the years, just never seen done by a Brit, especially not a Brit wearing the Maillot Jaune.
Riding through the Provence region of southern France the stage began in Givors at 163 meters above sea level, finishing at the top of the brutal Mont Ventoux at 1912 meters (6273 feet) above sea level. Mont Ventoux is legendary in the tour, the grueling climb claiming the life of British cyclist Tom Simpson in 1967. With gradients between 6.6 & 10 % it is a leg destroyer, especially after 4 categorised climbs earlier in the day and 221 km (137 miles) leading up to the beginning of the climb.
The stage was progressing as usual in the tour, some riders who are not contenders for the overall title having made a break and claiming the early climbing points available, they were still holding onto the lead at the base of the mountain. Nairo Quintana the impressive young Colombian rider made his move with about 14km to go. He hit with devastating acceleration & it seemed that the yellow jersey group had no answer for him as he raced up the mountain catching & passing the few remnants of the breakaway group.
I thought I was witnessing one of the most spectacular displays of climbing in quite some time, but team Sky were not done yet. While it seemed like they were unable to respond they were really just being patient & sticking to their pre-established plan. With about 13 km to go Sky rider Peter Kennaugh upped the pace, trying to respond to the breakaway upstart and also to try and thin the group of elite riders surrounding Froome. At 9.5 km out Kennaugh was done and Richie Porte, another of Froome’s Sky team mates took over. Porte pedaled his blood to water, setting a brutal pace that only Froome & his chief rival in this year’s tour, previous champion Alberto Contador, could match. With about 7.5 km to go it was time for Froome to take over. His initial & then subsequent kicks were more than Contador could handle and Froom was free to chase Quintana up the mountain.
It seemed like no time at all before Froome caught the young Colombian. I felt bad for the young man, you know that all his life his best has been more than good enough in the mountains. It seemed that today his best would be good enough again, yet for the second time in this tour he found out that his best, that has always been enough, was no match for Chris Froome’s best. Quintana stuck with him for a little while but ultimately he could not match the pace that Froome was able to set.
At the top of the mountain, the leader of the Tour took the stage victory, a 29 second advantage on the day and a 4:14 advantage overall. Chris Froome’s ride today is a stage that I will remember for all time, like watching Induran and Chiappucci in the first tour I remember watching, or Schlek & Contador when I got back into pro cycling a few years ago. If he is able to hold on & win the Tour overall, todays stage will go down in cycling lore as one of the legendary performances in the mountains of France. Chris Froome, thank you good sir for a most enjoyable morning watching cycling.
Photo and image credit: http://www.letour.fr/le-tour/2013/us/stage-15.html