Inclement weather meant it rained on the Team Sky rider’s parade during the easiest of 21 often gruelling stages, in which he had to overcome not just 197 fellow riders and numerous gigantic Pyrenean and Alpine peaks, but also constant questions about doping. There were also attacks from racegoers in which the rider was verbally abused, spat at and had urine thrown in his face.
“The maillot jaune is special, very special,” said Froome once victory was secured in a stage that was attended by the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, and marred by the intervention of one unrelated banner-waving protester, believed to be a young farmer, who wandered into the middle of the road as the peloton approached.
“I understand its history, good and bad, and I will always respect it, never dishonour it and I’ll always be proud to have won it,” Froome added.
“This race is so big, what can I say? It’s hard to express the feelings in my heart. It was a very, very hard Tour this year, on the bike and off it. I’m too emotional to say much. It was difficult, there was some stress, but I didn’t get too angry.”
Viewed with remarkable disdain by many cycling fans as over-moneyed Johnny-come-latelies who have bought success, Team Sky have suffered an often staggering lack of popularity on the continent. This ensured Froome’s race was ridden and won in a haze of suspicion, and innuendo regarding the probity of his success, in a contest that saw just one rider forced out for failing a drug test.
Ironically, much of the insinuation was generated in French media circles, including by Dr Pierre Sallet, resident expert in physiology of the host broadcasters France 2. In an ambush on studio guest Sir Dave Brailsford, the Sky chief, he suggested that Froome’s race-winning 15.3km climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin could not have been achieved without cheating. Froome and Brailsford were quick to rubbish the doctor’s conclusion.
Froome also faced insinuations of doping from the former French cyclists turned commentators Laurent Jalabert and Cédric Vasseur. The former tested positive for the endurance-boosting hormone EPO during his career, while the latter is a former member of both a Cofidis team that was once mired in scandal and the disgraced US Postal team led by Lance Armstrong.
The influential pair’s speculation almost certainly contributed to unpleasant roadside scenes in which Froome had urine thrown in his face by one spectator, was spat at by at least two more, and ostentatiously labelled a doper by many others. On one occasion, his Australian team-mate Richie Porte was punched by a racegoer, while Sky’s riders faced constant barracking from the grassy margins.
Unlike others in the professional peloton, Froome has never failed a drug control, but recently confessed to missing one earlier this year.
Froome insists he and his team mates are “winning clean” and has called for more rigorous testing. He said he was disappointed by the baseless slurs on his character. “Those are the guys a lot of people, a lot of fans, a lot of supporters look up to as idols,” he said of Jalabert and Vasseur. “And here they are casting doubt on current cycling and a clean cyclist and a clean team. It’s really disappointing.”
Predictions before the Grand Départ from Utrecht suggested this might be one of the most closely fought editions of the Tour in years, with little between the “Fab Four” of Froome, Nairo Quintana and the former winners Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali.
The patchy form of Contador and Nibali, combined with the stranglehold in which Sky quickly grabbed the race, made it something of a no-contest. But, despite the dominance of Sky’s pedal-turning automatons, the race provided no shortage of drama, including the loss through injury of not one but two early race leaders in Tony Martin and Fabian Cancellara.
In a race that will also be remembered for spot checks on the bikes of competitors for hidden engines and the return to France of Armstrong to take part in a charity cycle, Froome’s team-mate Geraint Thomas had a fortunate escape after being hit so hard another rider that he had to be rescued by spectators after plummeting off the road. Despite losing his “lucky” sunglasses in the incident, he remained fit enough to accompany his team leader to Paris.
Froome won the general classification by 1 min 12 sec from the young Colombian climber Quintana, who had chipped significant time from the Briton’s lead in Friday and Saturday’s Alpine stages, but not enough to knock his rival off the top of the podium.
Having repeated his success of 2013, when Quintana also finished second, Froome is now one of 20 riders to win cycling’s most iconic race at least twice.
As André Greipel prevailed in a fiercely fought final-stage sprint finish on the Champs-Élysées, the 30-year-old victor finished in comparative safety further down the field. The race leader’s yellow jersey made him easily distinguishable from his team-mates, the black-clad Sky security detail who helped chaperone him to overall victory in the past three weeks.
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