January 31, 2023

UK’s Chris Froome wins the Tour de France for the third time

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25tour-web-master768From The New York Times

PARIS — Chris Froome of Britain survived two crashes, severe storms, an uphill dash on foot and a daredevil descent to become the winner of the Tour de France for a third time on Sunday.

With the victory, Froome, the leader of Team Sky, cemented his status as a cyclist without peer and Sky’s as cycling’s top team.

Initially a seemingly quixotic project to transform Britain into a cycling power, Sky has now won three of the last four Tours. It did not win the best-team competition at the Tour, which is based on aggregated times, but it was able to consistently surround Froome with strong teammates, one of the keys to his victory, particularly in light of the exceptionally strong winds the riders faced in southern France.

Following tradition, the final stage, which concluded with nine laps of the Champs-Élysées, was largely ceremonial. The riders swapped congratulations, and Froome and his teammates sipped some Champagne and beer while showing off special race clothing. The host broadcaster took full advantage of its helicopter camera to show off scenic wonders, particularly the 16th-century chateau and elaborate stables in Chantilly, where the 113-kilometer (70.2-mile) stage started.

There was no in-race drinking, however, for the sprinters of the Tour and the teams that employed them. André Greipel, a German rider on the Belgian Lotto Soudal team, won what is probably cycling’s most prestigious sprint.

“Thanks for your kindness in these difficult times,” Froome said in French from the Tour’s final podium. “You have the most beautiful race in the world. Vive le Tour. Vive La France.”

This month’s truck attack in Nice did not noticeably thin the crowd that gathered to see Froome lead the race onto the Champs-Élysées. But security, traditionally high, had clearly been increased. Cafes along the cobbled street were ordered closed, as were some Metro stations. At the subway stops that did remain open, spectators were held back to allow police officers to inspect bags and parcels.

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France’s riot police teams are usually kept in vans and buses on side streets during the Tour’s finale. On Sunday, they were out mingling with the crowd, as were plainclothes officers dressed as cycling fans.

The French, who still pine for another Tour winner, still had a rider to cheer this time. Romain Bardet, the unusually slim climber, gave them a last-minute stage win and finished second over all, if a substantial 4 minutes 5 seconds behind Froome. The final podium spot went to Nairo Quintana of Colombia, the leader of the Spanish Movistar team, who showed none of the form he had used on the second-to-last stage in 2015 to give Froome a scare.

While Froome has now won one of sport’s most difficult challenges three times, including victories in 2013 and 2015, he is more respected than admired. Even in Britain, he has yet to achieve the popularity and celebrity of Bradley Wiggins, the former Sky rider who, in 2012, become the first Briton to win the Tour.

Cycling has seen this before. Many fans turned against Eddy Merckx, the great star of the 1970s and now cycling’s living deity, when he seemed to win every race he entered. And while Lance Armstrong at his height was an A-list celebrity in the United States, Europeans often booed him.

Froome lacks Armstrong’s aggressiveness and Merckx’s rapaciousness. Instead, he is unrelentingly polite but also uncharismatic, less an inspirational speaker than the chief executive of an insurance company addressing shareholders. His remarks, rarely spontaneous, suggest that Froome was a model student at his media-relations training sessions, suitable, perhaps, for the lead rider on a team that has taken a corporate approach to cycling.

Froome’s riding is similarly clinical. Far from being a stylish rider, Froome frequently looks down, an unwise idea when traveling within inches of other riders at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour.

That quirk led to speculation that Froome was checking the display on his power meter to churn out a specific number of watts.

The theory is very likely unfounded, but like his public appearances, Froome’s approach to racing often seems as if it was laid out in a spreadsheet. His run up Mont Ventoux after a crash that destroyed his bicycle and a wild downhill attack that won him another stage were exceptions to his usual approach.

Sky’s dominance, Froome’s superior form and the team’s largely calculated approach do not always make for exciting racing. The problem has grown as other teams adopt Sky’s methods.

Charly Wegelius, a sports director with the American Cannondale-Drapac team, is among those calling for rule changes to liven up the Tour. Among other things, he would like to see all riders in breakaways who gain more than 10 minutes on the main pack during a stage receive time bonuses. He would also cut the size of teams by a third, to six, and include more stages that feature a series of small climbs near their conclusions.

Perhaps inevitably given cycling’s sorry doping history, Froome’s success occasionally leads to unsubstantiated allegations that Froome is either doping in the traditional way or with the aid of a tiny electric motor hidden in his bike.

“I think I’ve pretty much put that to rest,” Froome said Saturday, citing his release of physiological test data last year. It seems unlikely, however, that the conspiracy theorists will go away.

Froome’s problems with British fans, however, seem to involve his nationality.

Born in Kenya, raised there and in South Africa and now a permanent resident of Monaco, Froome is sometimes viewed as being a Briton of convenience. That may explain why he plays down the most interesting aspect of his life: his time in Africa.

It is a story in which cycling proved to be his way out of a dire situation. When Froome was still young, his father went bankrupt and his parents divorced. At one point, creditors seized the family’s belongings.

Froome’s mother asked David Kinjah, a Kenyan cyclist who had a brief pro career in Italy, to teach her son the sport. In the difficult and hardscrabble world of African cycling, Froome found his calling.

Adding to the resentment in Britain, Froome rarely races there.

“I’ve really wanted to,” Froome said Saturday before noting that the Tour of Britain coincides with Spain’s major tour and that Britain’s national championships, now a significant event, happen just before the Tour de France. He added, “It’s a tricky time to include with all that travel time and tapering to get ready for the Tour.”

His explanation was not entirely convincing. Nearly every country holds its national championships just before the Tour, and nearly all of Froome’s challengers participate in them.

But Froome did make a peace offering Saturday. He now plans to enter a one-day race in London next weekend before heading off to Rio de Janeiro to compete in the Olympic road time trial as part of the British team.

While the doubts over how much of a Briton he is will linger, it seems unlikely that Froome, as a three-time Tour de France winner, will not be a draw.

IMAGE: Chris Froome, with the leader’s yellow jersey, celebrated with his Team Sky teammates as he crossed the finish line. Credit Lionel Bonaventure/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

For more on this story go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/25/sports/cycling/chris-froome-wins-tour-de-france-for-the-third-time.html?_r=0

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