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Tour de France stage 21: Chris Froome claims third Tour title

Timothy John
24 Jul 2016

Greipel wins bunch sprint on Champs Élysées

Chris Froome (Team Sky) sealed overall victory at the 2016 Tour de France tonight in Paris, becoming only the eighth rider in history to win the race three times.

André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) won the stage - his first of this campaign - in an exhilarating finish on the Champs Élysées, that saw him hold of a fast-finishing Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha).

The German held his bike aloft and roared his exultation into the Paris night, in a striking contrast with Froome, who was reunited with his wife Michelle and yellow-clad baby Kellan in more controlled scenes. 

Despite the pulsating finale, Paris belonged to Froome, as it had in 2013 and 2015, and after such a dominant display, in which he not only nullified his rivals but comprehensively outraced them, we can surely expect to witness another coronation. 

He shared the podium with young Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), the runner-up, and with Nairo Quintana (Movistar), the man many had expected to push Froome to his limit this year, but who declared himself satisfied with third.

Twice a runner-up, the Colombian failed to find his best form at any point in the three-week race, but even in prime condition, he might have struggled to match Froome, who this year descended fearlessly, time-trialled better than the specialists against the clock, sprinted against the maillot vert, and matched the pure climbers in the high mountains.

Froome’s comprehensive display was matched by his team, who rode as one in his service, and crossed the finish line together, lined out across the road with arms around each other’s shoulders.

Wout Poels, Sergio Henao, and Mikel Nieve are all worthy of special mention. Sky have never lacked for talent, but the 2016 Tour squad might be the strongest yet assembled by Sir Dave Brailsford.

Sky did not deliver the only success for Britain. Adam Yates (Orica-Bike Exchange) won the best young rider category and, at 23, could do so again next year. 

Sagan wrapped up his fifth consecutive victory in the points category, and team-mate Rafal Majka triumphed for a second time in the King of the Mountains competition.

The absence of a GC battle and an excessive amount of tedious 'transfer' stages deprived the 103rd Tour of 'classic' status, but each stage and each competition had a worthy winner, and none more so than Froome. 

London will welcome Britain's first mutiple Grand Tour winner in a week's time, when Froome rolls out for the RideLondon Classic. He deserves nothing less than the most rapturous welcome.

The stage in detail

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) led the peloton onto the Champs Élysées for the first time, an indulgence by the peloton in acknowledgement of the Spaniard’s fifth and final Tour de France.

Team Sky lined out at a respectful distance, the carriages of its famous train headed by Luke Rowe, and the team now sporting a yellow stripe on their chests instead of the customary blue.

Hostilities soon began. Eight riders fired themselves up the most famous avenue in France, among them Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), who last year became the first black African rider to wear the maillot à pois.

The escape seemed an afront to Tommy Voeckler (Direct Energie), perennial attacker and self-appointed ‘face’ of French cycling, who did the next best thing to leading the stage by leading the peloton, displaying his full gurning repertoire to communicate his effort to the TV audience. 

Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep) betrayed his frustration at a Tour campaign that by his own, exalted standards must be considered disappointing, when he punctured with 35km remaining.

With only victory on stage four to his credit this year, the German rode into Paris beneath a considerable weight of expectation, and when the spare bike pulled from the roof of his team car proved faulty, he hurled its rear wheel into the passing convoy.

After remounting and pounding his handlebars in frustration, Kittel delivered an extended demonstration of the art of surfing the convoy, tucking in close behind all manner of vehicles, including, finally, the red voiture of race director Prudhomme, before making his way back through the peloton.

The Belgian team’s problems were far from over, however. Dan Martin, separated only by 20km or so from ninth place overall, was the next to fall back to the team car with a mechanical. The team had begun the day by losing Tony Martin. Surely things could not get worse?

With 20km remaining and the breakaway at 10 seconds, Sky were all smiles as they completed another lap. The reason for their hilarity soon became clear: Poels and Luke Rowe clipped off the front of the peloton in pursuit of the breakaway, seemingly for no other reason than the pleasure of doing so.

Their arrival, however, signaled the end for the escapees. The rangy Teklehaimanot was the last man to be caught from the original break, but no sooner it been reeled in, than Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) drove clear, soon to be accompanied by stage five winner, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing). Lutsenko’s advantage was shortlived, and shortly after the bell rang to signal the final lap, Van Avermaet was captured.

IAM Cycling led the peloton on its final Tour, with indefatigable breakaway artist Jarlinson Pantano, the stage 15 winner, somewhat improbably leading a group of sprint trains now at full gas.

Tinkoff took over as they passed the Arc de Triomphe for the final time, and Orica-Bike Exchange, riding for stage 11 winner Michael Matthews, and Giant-Alpecin, supporting John Degenkolb, were also prominent.

French sprinter Bryan Coquard (Direct Energie) suffered the cruelest misfortune of the day with a puncture at just 2.3km to go, sinking the hopes of a nation, but his distress was soon forgotten as the climax loomed.

Lotto-Soudal led the peloton into the underpass for the final time, and with only just 1.5km of the race remaining, seemed to have positioned Greipel perfectly. Etixx were not done, however, and Dimension Data joined the party in support of Edvald Boasson-Hagen.

Katusha lined up for Alexander Kristoff as the peloton hit the final turn, and from out of nowhere, Sagan declared himself a contender.

Kirstoff leapt early but Greipel would not be denied, despite only just holding off  Sagan, who seemed to be travelling at another speed entirely to his rivals.

Paris belonged to Froome again, and in the warmth of a perfect July evening, the champion displayed his usual grace. His third victory at cycling’s greatest race might just be his best yet.

Stage 20

Ion Izaguirre (Movistar) won the penultimate and most demanding stage of the 2016 Tour de France to bring some glory to his Movistar team after the failure of leader Nairo Quintana to mount a significant challenge for overall victory.

The Basque sealed a hugely impressive victory by descending into Morzine through filthy conditions from the summit of the hors categorie Col de Joux Plane, a mountain considered savage even by Alpine standards.

Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling), the Colombian winner of stage 15, was second, while 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was third.

Chris Froome (Team Sky) survived the penultimate stage and tomorrow will complete the formalities of winning a third Tour de France in Paris. Sky retained their calm efficiency today, thanks largely to a titanic effort from Geraint Thomas, and guided Froome home safely through frequently treacherous conditions.

Despite the severity of the course, and the hype that had surrounded this stage as the ultimate decider, the sharp end of the general classification remained largely unchanged.

Fabio Aru (Astana) was the day's big loser, slipping from sixth to thirteenth after losing 13 minutes on the penultimate stage. Thirteen also proved an auspicious number for the hapless Bauke Mollema (Trek), who lost his place in the top 10 to Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff), and will ride to Paris 13'13" in arrears to Froome, in eleventh on GC.

Adam Yates (Orica-Bike Exchange) sealed victory in the best young rider category by maintaining a 2'16" advantage over Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida). The 23-year-old Briton will finish his second Tour de France in fourth place overall, with a deficit of just 4'42" to the three-time winner.

Paris will welcome the Tour home tomorrow. For Froome, the celebrations may have already begun.

The stage in detail

The day got off to an exhilarating start, led, with the bravery characteristic of the professional cyclist, by Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac). The victim yesterday of a savage crash on treacherous, rain-slicked roads, today he lit the touch paper on an explosive stage, ignoring his bandages to attack from the gun.

Scores of riders followed his lead, with Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Nicolas Edet (Cofidis), Petr Vakoc (Etixx-QuickStep), and Cesare Benedetti (Bora-Argon18) among the first to break clear with the Frenchman.

Others wasted no time in joining them, including the Lotto-Soudal pairing of Thomas De Gendt and Tony Gallopin, stage 10 winner Michael Matthews (Orica-Bike Exchange), and stage 17 winner Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha).

Astana flew to the front of a rapidly disintegrating peloton, but even their efforts could not prevent a major fissure in the bunch, with Froome and his Sky compadres suddenly part of a group comprised of only 40 riders or so.

In no time at all, the lead group of 37 riders found themselves on the first climb of the day, the second category Col des Aravis, while Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard set to work behind to try and haul Sky back into the race. They faced a tall order. Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali  had crossed the gap to the breakaway, as had the Tinkoff duo of Peter Sagan and Roman Kreuziger.

The escapees quickly gained an advantage of 1’08” on the Sky group, who might have gained a crumb of comfort from having placed Sergio Henao among those who had ridden clear. Sky’s elevated pace, however, spelled bad news for sprinters like Marcel Kittel (Etixx-QuickStep), who found themselves jettisoned from what remained of the peloton.

With all the inevitably of death and taxes, stage 12 winner De Gendt clipped off the front of the breakaway, and quickly established a lead of 30 seconds over his one-time confederates. He was first across the summit of the Aravis, now with a lead of nearly two minutes over Sky and their unhappy band. Heavy rain only added to their misery.

De Gendt was reeled in on the descent, now on drying roads, and Matthews took the intermediate sprint at Le Grand Bornand shortly after, to the disgust of Sagan, who finished second. Sagan had been comprehensively worked over by Matthews and his team-mates in a three-on-one mugging at the conclusion of stage 10, and the maillot vert seemed disinclined to forgive the Australian this latest insult.

The world champion buried his anger by driving the breakaway and by the time Sky grabbed their lunch, the escapees had built a lead of 3’21”. Froome’s team had reason to be content, even if others in the favourites group did not. Krueziger’s position in the escape group elevated him to sixth overall, if he maintained his advantage to the finish.

At the 100km mark, Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data) and Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) were joined in a no man’s land between the escapees and the Sky-led peloton by Movistar’s Immanol Erviti, who had slipped from the lead group; an indication of the pace that continued to be set by the leaders. Ion Izagirre and Nelson Oliveira ensured the Spanish team retained a presence up front.

De Gendt was at it again at the summit of the Col de la Colombière, somewhat inexplicably pursuing points in a classification already decided: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) had already done enough to take permanent possession of this year’s maillot à pois. De Gendt’s enthusiasm, however, was illustrative of the breakaway’s intent: the escapees had by now fashioned a five-minute lead over Froome and co.

Sky received a further indication that today would be difficult when Henao suffered a rear puncture, costing him time and his place among the leaders. The British team was left with no presence at the sharp end of the race, which was now more than five minutes ahead.

Sagan’s relentless turn on the front of the breakaway caused fissures behind. and as he sped towards the feed zone it was with the company of just eight riders, among them Nibali, Kreuziger and Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep). The once-unified group of escapees now scrambled for wheels. Even the most motivated of breakaway riders struggled merely to keep pace with the world champion.

Angry clouds gathered overhead as Sagan’s group crossed the 80km to go mark. Kreuziger, however, might only have seen sunshine. The chief beneficiary of team-mate Sagan’s tireless progress, the Czech champion found himself elevated to third on GC, if the race suddenly ended. A further 75km, and the spiralling climbs of the Col de la Ramaz and the Col de Joux Plane lay between him and the podium, however.

Astana drove the favourites group for Aru - strange for Nibali, who found himself chased by his own team-mates - while Sagan continued his efforts for Kreuziger as the lower slopes of the first category Col de la Ramaz began to rise beneath his wheels.

Such were Astana’s efforts, that five men rode off the front of the Sky group and were forced to slow up and wait for the man they were intending to help: team leader, Fabio Aru. Sky might have given them a lesson in pace setting.

As the Ramaz bit, Sagan finally pulled off the front of the lead group and dropped back. Kreuziger assumed his team-mate’s position on the front, but only for a moment. Within a few revolutions he flicked his elbow at Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale), but the Frenchman had problems of his own: a puncture.

With 60km remaining, and a further 8km for the front group until the summit of the Ramaz, the gap fell to five minutes for the first time. Astana’s efforts at the front of the favourites group were beginning to tell, and not only at the head of the race. Ian Stannard, Froome’s flatland bodyguard, soon watched his companions disappear over the horizon.

Up ahead, Nibali could wait no longer. Concerned by the lack of impetus among the lead group since Sagan peeled off, the 2014 champion made his move, but was soon overtaken by a recovering Gougeard. Nibali either couldn’t or wouldn’t launch a countermove and the stasis among the leaders remained - much to the relief of Team Sky. Soon the lead breakaway group was subsumed by the followers, with the favourites 4’44” behind.

De Gendt, inevitably, leapt clear of the recently reformed escape group, bidding for maximum points at the summit of the Ramaz, now just 3km distant. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), a protagonist 24-hours earlier, rode clear in pursuit of the Belgian, swiftly joined by Rolland. Heavy rain at the summit did not deter Lotto-Soudal’s escapologist in chief, who calmly donned his glasses, zipped up his jersey and began the 16km descent.

The rain grew steadily heavier as the leaders began the final 50km, while behind, Sagan, for so long the pace setter, was swept up the Astana-led group of favourites, almost within sight of the summit of the Ramaz.

De Gendt, tip-toeing down the descent, was soon caught and passed by Pantano and then Alaphilippe, the young Frenchman travelling at significantly faster speed. He used his advantage to tear of his rain jacket and allow Pantano to join him to share the workload on the flat kilometres to the foot of the Joux Plan.

The weather had changed drastically as Alaphilippe and Pantano pedaled in to Taninges and brilliant sunshine with a 35-second advantage in their pockets. Ahead, dark clouds obscured the Joux Plan entirely. The duo, wisely, continued to make hay while conditions allowed.

Astana continued to lead the favourites, but all the fizz had gone out of their attack and they trailed Alaphilippe and Pantano by nearly seven minutes as the leading duo rode across the valley floor.

They arrived on the lower slopes of the Joux Plane with more than a minute’s advantage. A savage 11.6km climb reared up ahead of them, unfolding at an average gradient of 8.5 per cent.

Movistar called back some of their men from the breakaway and, as the favourites group approached the Joux Plane, Quintana found himself with reinforcements. Ion Izaguirre, significantly, remained ahead. Aru was not without support, but failed to keep pace with his own domestiques. His chances of making the final podium evaporated with every pedal stroke. The Italian grubbed around desperately in his jersey pockets, but declined offers of sustenance from his team-mates.

Darryl Impey (Orica-Bike Exchange) continued to grind at the head of the favourites group, hoping that his tempo would claim more victims than Aru in a bid to regain third place on GC for Yates, his young British team-mate.

Mollema, another rider who once seemed certain of a place on the podium in Paris, rode past Froome and disappeared up the road. Robbed of a high placing by a crash yesterday, the Dutchman was intent on making a statement. Alberto Contador is widely believed to be joining the team next year.

Tenth on GC was clearly not enough for a rider in the form of his life. Mollema's efforts were brave - climbing on the drops, teeth gritted and eyes screwed up against the rain - but yielded little.

Nibali exploded off the front of the breakaway group in pursuit of Alpahilippe and Pantano. His impact was instant, and with a further six kilometres to the summit, the gap had already been reduced to 45 seconds.

Up ahead, Alaphilippe launched a stinging attack, perhaps responding to news of Niabli’s assault. His advantage was short lived: Pantano ground his way back to the Frenchman’s wheel within a kilometre. Alaphilippe attacked again, and again was hauled back and then passed by Pantano.

By slugging each other, rather than working together, the intemperate duo merely played into the hands of Nibali, who calmly pedaled past them. Showing all the class of of a four-time Grand Tour winner, the Italian pumped in three or four seated attacks and promptly disappeared up the road.

Even sharks can be bitten, however. Izaguirre tore up the road behind Nibali, passing Alaphilippe without so much as a backward glance and picking up Pantano as a passenger. The trio crossed the summit together.

Izaguirre took off as soon as the descent began, and in the most heinous conditions. Pantano almost left the road immediately. Even Nibali, a master descender, was cautious, but Izaguirre barely blinked and disappeared at astonishing speed.

Pantano got back on terms with an uncharacteristically cautious Nibali on the descent, passing the Sicilian to claim second on the stage.

A volley of attacks flew from the favourites group as they rounded the final corner, each fighting to secure their own positions. Yesterday's stage winner, Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Quintana will flank Froome on the podium in Paris tomorrow. Yates sealed fourth on GC and victory in the white jersey competition for best young rider.

Froome, now a three-time champion, merely offered a small shake of the head and disbelieving smile as he rolled into Morzine. Tomorrow, he is likely to enjoy a more significant celebration.

Stage 19

Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) claimed a heroic victory on the vertiginous and rain-slicked roads to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, making the most of treacherous conditions that brought a host of contenders to the tarmac, including race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky).  

The young Frenchman finished the day in second on the general classification after a determined and largely instinctive performance that saw him drive clear of the chaos with the help of team-mate Mickaël Chérel. 

Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Dan Martin (Etixx-Quickstep) and Fabio Aru (Astana) were among those who attempted to add to Froome’s distress, but, paced by the invaluable Wout Poels, the maillot jaune limited his losses on the stage and retained a comfortable advantage on the GC. 

Tomorrow’s final Alpine instalment may offer further shows of strength from Froome’s rivals. The champion was bloodied today, but unbowed. He will fight to Paris, but this Tour ain’t over yet.

The stage in detail 

Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) continued a determined campaign for the maillot à pois by claiming full points at the summit of the Montée de Bisanne. The Pole now needs only to roll on to Paris without disaster to be crowned King of the Mountains at the 2016 Tour de France. Majka had ridden as part of a 13-man break that included, with a certain inevitability, the indefatigable Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), winner of stage 12 to Mont Ventoux. 

A day raced in the style of much of this Tour - strong breakaways allowed to go clear by a small clique of favourites - turned on its head in the last 40km. Heavy rain made treacherous the descent of the Montée de Bisanne and the Notre Dame De Bellecombe, and Pierre Rolland (Cannondale-Drapac) was among those who crashed heavily.  

Ritchie Porte (BMC Racing) was distanced briefly and faced the difficult challenge of surfing the convoy on a slippery descent in a bid to regain contact. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) negotiated the descent better than any, and as the road finally levelled off on the approach to Megève, held a lead of around a minute over a peloton driven by Ag2r-La Mondiale and Astana with 15km of the stage remaining. 

Both teams at the head of the peloton seemed keen to cash in on the good form shown by their various protagonists in the previous day’s time trial. Both Aru and Bardet had produced impressive performances against the clock and seemed determined to do so again on the steep approach to the finish in Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc.

Crashes came thick and fast on the descent leading to the Côte de Domancy with Froome, Mollema and Nibali all down, but not out. The same could not be said for Dani Navarro (Cofidis), one of the chief animators of this Tour, who failed to remount and gave every indication of having suffered a broken collarbone. 

Froome flagged down Geraint Thomas and mounted his bike. As he pedalled towards the 10km to go kite, the wounds to his right hand side - torso, arm and leg - were clearly visible. Bardet took advantage of the chaos to push on with team-mate Chérel, but nearly came to grief on a flat road, only narrowly avoiding a collision with a parked car. 

Froome surged past Majka and the remains of the breakaway in pursuit of Bardet, surrounded by Sky henchmen, including the indispensable Poels. Bardet was already a kilometre up the road and pushing hard.

Astana led the favourites up the final climb, with Poels raising an arm to signal for help and Froome talking frantically into his radio. Movistar were present in numbers, but failed to attack, despite Froome’s difficulties.  

The road narrowed drastically as the gradient increased, forcing the Mavic neutral service car to halt and allow the riders past. Bardet at least was undeterred, and soon caught Costa. The Portuguese seemed reenergised by Bardet’s presence and the pair surged forwards together, swapping turns and forming an effective tandem. 

With 6km remaining, Froome and Sky produced a show of defiance. Poels motored up the line of favourites with Froome in his wheel, before finally holding station immediately behind Astana’s Diego Rosa, who led the train. 

Porte, back among the GC contenders, responded with a little help from team-mate Damiano Caruso. Jersey open, teeth gritted, face mud-splattered, the Italian might have served as the textbook definition of a cycling domestique. Mollema might have wished for such a luxury. Entirely bereft of support, he ground his way onto the wheel of the fast-fading Majka, but any hope of rejoining Froome and co. seemed faint. His second place on GC slipped from his grasp with every pedal stroke, and he ended the day tenth on GC, at 7'42".

Caruso snapped the elastic to Froome and Poels, pulling Porte and even Quintana with him. The Colombian, dormant for almost the entire race, seemed finally to have recovered something of his old self. Sky, alert to the danger, sent Poels and Sergio Henao ahead while the wounded Froome did what he could with a borrowed bike. As Porte faltered, however, the picture changed again, with Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) bursting clear in pursuit of Bardet and stage victory. 

Poels might have responded, but his primary concern was for the injured Froome. Porte and Quintana, sensing the champion’s distress, pressed on. Poels upped the tempo again, and acting in tandem with Henao, produced a pincer movement to slow the progress of the Australian and the Colombian. 

The accelerations were enough to distance Adam Yates (Orica-Bike Exchange), who, like Mollema, saw his podium position become increasingly tenuous. When the day was done, he'd slipped from thrid to fourth on GC, and now trails Froome by 4'46". Perhaps significantly, his long held third place was claimed by Quintana. Just 19 seconds separate the Englishman and the Colombian.

Bardet surged beneath the 2km to go banner as behind Poels reeled in Dan Martin. Froome rode past the Irishman, blocking his progress in another pincer movement with Poels. While they concerned themselves with Martin, however, Porte and Quintana launched again, quickly joined by the wild Aru.  

The Italian, having caught the more fancied duo, simply rode past them, smashing himself with a monstrous effort; teeth gritted, bike thrown side-to-side, energised by the appearance of the fading Costa. 

Aru’s refusal to concede, however, seemed increasingly to become an exercise in self-flagellation. As he flailed beneath the flamme rouge, a suddenly organised Movistar team powered past, Alejandro Valverde drawing on all his experience to lead Quintana home. Froome and Porte were distanced by their pace. 

Bardet began to smile, raising a thumb to the crowd, pedalling squares with the effort, but doing so in an ecstasy of fatigue and delight. The final 150m saw the road rise again, but nothing would deny the young Frenchman, who simply dug deeper in response. His victory was warmly applauded and entirely deserved.  

With the finish line already a memory, he stood and waited for news of his improved position on the GC, letting out a roar when he learned that he had vaulted past the still-toiling Mollema to second overall. The unfortunate Dutchman would finish four minutes behind Bardet. 

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was next home, followed closely by Valverde, Lampre-Merida’s young South African, Louis Meintjes, and Quintana. 

Tomorrow’s penultimate stage, from Megève to Morzine, had long been considered a throne for the coronation of Quintana, but despite Froome’s suffering today, it is unlikely to serve as such. It does, however, all but guarantee an exciting finish to the peloton’s Alpine adventures. 

The Col des Aravis, Le Grand Bornand, the Cold de la Colombière, the Col de la Ramaz and and the hors categorie Col de Joux Plane await the riders, before a fast decent into Morzine. It is not to be missed.