Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana have been reflecting on a life-changing day for both of them. Quintana, winner of today’s final mountain stage of the race, also wins the best young rider’s competition and pips Froome to the mountains jersey; Froome, meanwhile, heads to Paris tomorrow evening and the top step of the podium in front of the Arc de Triomphe to be crowned champion of the 100th edition of cycling’s biggest race.
If one of the mantras of last year’s race from Wiggins was that “Kids from Kilburn” don’t win the Tour, it seems all the more the unlikely that a “Kid from Kenya” would, yet 12 months on, here we are.
Froome, runner-up to team mate Wiggins in Paris in 2012, has won the race in style, including those stage wins at Ax 3 Domaines and on Mont Ventoux, as well as Wednesday’s individual time trial at Chorges. He was born in Nairobi and schooled in South Africa, an unusual background for any pro cyclist, let alone one who is poised to win the Tour de France.
This evening, as he prepares to head to Paris with a lead of 5 minutes 3 seconds over Quintana, Froome said:
For me, what this represents – the journey I’ve taken to get here from where I’ve started, riding on a little mountain bike on dirt roads in Kenya – and to be here the yellow jersey at the Tour de France... it’s difficult for me to put into words. This really has been an amazing journey for me.
The race has been a fight every single day. Crosswinds, rain, mountains... on one occasion I was riding on my own to the finish, at others I was surrounded by team-mates all the way.
This is an amazing feeling. Everybody keeps telling me that this is life changing but I don’t want things to change. I’ve enjoyed the challenge this year... to get ready for this year’s Tour has been a fun challenge and I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.
Today, only Froome was able to respond to an attack from Quintana and Joaquin Rodriguez, the latter completing the podium after Alberto Contador slid to fourth overall.
This year’s race has seen more tactical attacks on the climbs than was the case last year, due to the presence of riders such as Contador, Rodriguez and Quintana, plus Froome himself being able to ride his own race this year.
The very nature of the racing has provided its own challenges, as Froome explained:
We definitely have to think on our feet. It’s not as easy as just listening to the radio and doing what they say.
On the final climb today, for example... I’d liked to have ridden away and won the stage but I just didn’t have the legs to follow.
In the last couple of kilometres today, I had the overwhelming feeling of, ‘I’ve done this...’ it was a very emotional feeling, a great realisation of what I’ve achieved.
Another issue for Froome during the race has been widespread insinuation, and at times outright accusations that he is doping, something he strongly refutes but accepts that, in the post-Armstrong era, is part and parcel of being race leader.
It’s definitely been a challenge. Whoever was in this position, whoever was in the yellow jersey, would have come under scrutiny.
I’m also one of those guys who was let down by this sport but we’re willing to do whatever it takes to show people that the sport is doing what it can to turn things around. [The Reasoned Decision] hasn’t taken away from my happiness.
I’m just thinking about the here and now... I’m 28 now and, if you think a bit like that, most cyclists come into their prime in their early-30s. I’d love to come back and contend for the Tour de France as long as I can and as long as I’ve got the motivation.
Thursday’s double ascent of Alpe d’Huez saw a frailty to Froome not seen previously in the race. He looked in serious trouble and in danger of hitting a wall as Rodriguez and Quintana again put him on the rack on the final climb.
[The worst moment] was probably on Alpe d’Huez when I could feel like I was completely flat of energy.
If you’ve ridden a bike you’ll know the feeling I’m talking about when you have no more energy and you see a sign saying five kilometres left... it’s a really hard thing to try and get through physically and mentally and thankfully I had my team-mate Richie Porte with me and he gave me a lot of motivation.
That’s not all Porte gave him. He also dropped back to the team car to pick up that gel for his flagging leader. With the race long having passed the point beyond which teams can give their riders food and drink, and the passing of the gel clearly captured by the TV cameras, there were bound to be repercussions.
Both Froome and Porte were docked 20 seconds as a result of the incident, but the likelihood is that the yellow jersey would have lost a lot more time without the sugar rush he illegally obtained. Whether he would have cracked completely and lost the race lead can now be added to the list of sporting discussions for which the answer will never be known.
Team Sky, meanwhile, derided at their launch in 2010 for their aim of getting a British overall winner of the Tour de France within five years have now achieved that twice, and a year early to boot.
For a rider who initially struggled initially after joining the team – he was subsequently diagnosed with the blood-sucking parasite Bilharzia, which left him fatigued – Froome’s rise since clinching runner’s-up spot in the 2011 Vuelta has been as impressive as it has been relentless.
When I first joined Team Sky, they asked me what my aspirations were and what I wanted to achieve. Being able to target the Tour de France was one of those longer-term goals but to be sitting here three years later in yellow the day before the Tour goes to Paris... I’m not sure if I’d ever see that happen.
The first time that I thought, ‘Okay, I could become a GC rider for a race like the Tour de France’ was at the 2011 Vuelta a España. Up until then I’d have good days and showings of what I was able to achieve.
But that Vuelta gave me a lot of confidence and belief in myself and that, actually, I do belong in this group of riders at the front of general classification.
At Movistar, Alejandro Valverde’s hoped-for overall challenge failed to materialise, as the Spaniard took on the role of a super-domestique for Quintana as the race went on. But the team will come away from the race with huge satisfaction.
Rui Costa’s two stage wins this week were momentous enough, but add in Quintana’s stage victory today, plus his capture of both the mountains and young rider’s classification plus being runner-up overall, and you start to run out of superlatives.
Whether Movistar will be able to keep the 23-year-old Colombian, whose contract is up at the end of the season, is another issue.
Quintana may have finished a shade over 5 minutes behind Froome on GC – possibly a result of his having attacked too early on key mountain stages earlier in the race – but apart from Katusha’s Joaquim Rodriguez with his sudden bursts of acceleration, he was the only rider consistently able to make Froome look like he was in any danger.
After today’s stage victory, Quintana exclaimed,
I do not believe it!
I am very happy, and I must thank all my team-mates who worked today but also throughout the Tour.
I thank especially my director José Luis Arrieta, who always had to make the right choices. Today we controlled the race well, everyone knew what he had to do, and was perfectly done.
It’s great, even better than what I expected.
It’s a special day for Colombia, especially since it is the national holiday. I think of course, about my family and friends who are there.
The former Colombian riders have marked the history of cycling, but we are a new generation, who saw something important today.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.