Surviving '1,000 deaths,' Froome all but locks up Tour

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon
Tour De France 2015: Taking Its Toll


ALPE D'HUEZ, France (AP) -- Feeling like he was "dying a thousand deaths," Chris Froome started to think that a second Tour de France victory might be melting away like the patches of snow on surrounding Alpine peaks.

Up ahead, already out of sight on the 21 hairpin bends lined by frenzied spectators, Froome's biggest rival at this Tour and those to come, Nairo Quintana, was flying, out of his saddle, getting away.

Grimly, Froome clung on. Following the wheels of two teammates who led him up cycling's most iconic climb to the Alpe d'Huez ski station, he passed - barely - the last big test before the three-week race rolls to its finish in Paris on Sunday.

This wasn't the dominant Froome whose powerful performances in the Pyrenees seemed, to some skeptics, reminiscent of dope cheats who did so much damage to the Tour. This was just a man, fighting pain, fighting the mountain, fighting to survive.

"There was a moment where I felt this could go either way," the British rider said.

"I was on my absolute limits. I was dying a thousand deaths."

Quintana was outstanding on the storied ascent, piling on speed in his last real opportunity to unseat the race leader. Over his radio, Froome's Team Sky updated him on the Colombian's progress as he scythed through fans waving flares and smoke bombs.

"We were getting time checks every few minutes," Froome said. "It was comforting to see it wasn't suddenly jumping by 30 seconds each time. It was slowly moving up 5-10 seconds at a time."

Thibaut Pinot won Saturday's Stage 20, the third French victory of this Tour. But it was Quintana's bold last assault and Froome's tenacious defense that provided the thrilling finale to a spectacular race.

The 1 minute, 12 seconds Froome preserved over Quintana will see him crowned the winner on the Champs-Elysees.

"An amazing, amazing feeling," he said.

Froome essentially won this Tour on the first big climbs in the Pyrenees in week two when, closely followed by teammate Richie Porte, he triumphed at the La Pierre-Saint-Martin ski station to give him a big time cushion. He picked that climb weeks earlier in training as the place to make his move.

That decisive blow carried Froome through those mountains and the hilly Massif Central region on the way to the Alps, and - with the exception of Quintana - resigned other contenders to fight for second and third.

Ultimately, Quintana left himself too much to do on the last of four days in the Alps. Just as in 2013, he'll finish runner-up again to Froome.

Quintana said time lost in the first week cost him dearly.

Still, he said: "Second at the Tour de France isn't half-bad."

Their engrossing, developing rivalry is box office for the sport after the ravages wrought by Lance Armstrong's era of systematic doping and lying.

At age 25, Quintana's future is ahead. He again will win the white jersey as the Tour's best young rider.

At 30, Froome can still add to his soon-to-be two Tour wins, and says he sees himself competing for at least another six or seven years.

But on this Tour's evidence, Quintana is getting closer to finding Froome's breaking point. In 2013, Froome won with a lead of 4 minutes, 20 seconds. This Tour wasn't so comfortable.

"Nairo pushed me all the way to the end, literally," Froome said. "We'll be back for the rematch."

On the Alpe d'Huez, Froome clung to the lifeline of his teammates Porte and Wouter Poels, who kept glancing behind to make sure their leader was still on their wheels.

"They saved it for me," Froome said.

Barring further loss of time on Sunday's largely ceremonial ride, which is very unlikely, Froome's winning margin will be the smallest since Carlos Sastre beat Cadel Evans by 58 seconds in 2008.

Quintana's Movistar teammate, Alejandro Valverde, will take third overall, 5:25 back.

Froome, his voice rough, said at his winner's press conference he's battled a cough and "been struggling" in the Alps.

Although unintended, those first signs of vulnerability shot holes in the idea that his dominant riding in the Pyrenees was somehow fishy. Such doubts reflected the climate of suspicion that prevails post-Armstrong, despite tighter drug testing.

Froome has defended himself against repeated questions about doping, and how he generates such power. He did so with calm and patience, insisting that cycling has moved on from the "Wild West" era of Tours won with doping.

But after a spectator threw urine at him on Stage 14, the mild-mannered Froome showed steel, blaming "very irresponsible" commentators for souring public opinion.

Some spectators spat at him - including, he said, on Saturday's final climb.

"There's been so much going on in the background," Froome said. "I've done nothing wrong. I've done nothing to deserve this."

27 PHOTOS
NTP: Tour de France crashes
See Gallery
Surviving '1,000 deaths,' Froome all but locks up Tour
Germany's Tony Martin, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, grimaces as he lies on the road with a broken collar bone after crashing in the last kilometers of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 191.5 kilometers (119 miles) with start in Abbeville and finish in Le Havre, France, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephane Mantey, Pool)
A doctor examines the broken collar bone of Germany's Tony Martin, after a crash in the last kilometers of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 191.5 kilometers (119 miles) with start in Abbeville and finish in Le Havre, France, Thursday, July 9, 2015. Left is Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski. (AP Photo/Eric Feferberg, Pool)
Germany's Tony Martin, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, is pushed by a teammate as he crosses the finish line with a broken collar bone after crashing in the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 191.5 kilometers (119 miles) with start in Abbeville and finish in Le Havre, France, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski, right, waits with Germany's Tony Martin, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, after he broke a collar bone in a crash in the last kilometers of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 191.5 kilometers (119 miles) with start in Abbeville and finish in Le Havre, France, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Eric Feferberg, Pool)
Germany's Tony Martin, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, is accompanied by his teammates after breaking collar bone in a crash in the last kilometers of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 191.5 kilometers (119 miles) with start in Abbeville and finish in Le Havre, France, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Stephane Mantey, Pool)
A team member helps Germany's Tony Martin, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, to get back on his bicycle after he broke a collar bone in a crash in the last kilometers of the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 191.5 kilometers (119 miles) with start in Abbeville and finish in Le Havre, France, Thursday, July 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Eric Feferberg, Pool)
LE HAVRE, FRANCE - JULY 09: Matteo Trentin of Italy and Etixx-Quick Step and yellow jersey wearer Tony Martin of Germany and Etixx-Quick Step ride during stage six of the 2015 Tour de France, a 191.5km stage between Abbeville and Le Havre, on July 9, 2015 in Le Havre, France. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Riders get up after crashing during the fifth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 189.5 kilometers (117.8 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Amiens, France, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Sebastien Boue, Pool)
Italy's Matteo Tosatto grimaces after crashing during the fifth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 189.5 kilometers (117.8 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Amiens, France, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Thibaut Pinot of France, center left, screams after crashing during the fifth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 189.5 kilometers (117.8 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Amiens, France, Wednesday, July 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jeff Pachoud, Pool)
AMIENS, FRANCE - JULY 08: The Peloton bunches up after 12km following a crash during stage five of the 2015 Tour de France, a 189.5km stage between Arras and Amiens on July 8, 2015 in Amiens, France. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
A rider almost crashes into the photographer as he tries to cut a corner when passing over a cobblestone sector with the pack during the fourth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 223.5 kilometers (138.9 miles) with start in Seraing, Belgium, and finish in Cambrai, France, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
The back of Australia's Michael Matthews, injured, is pictured after a big crash at the head of the pack during the 159.5 km third stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 6, 2015, between the belgian cities of Antwerp and Huy. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
Scores of riders lie on the road after crashing during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 159.5 kilometers (99.1 miles) with start in Antwerp and finish in Huy, Belgium, Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
A doctor, left, and the Trek team manager, right, tend to Switzerland's Fabian Cancellara after he crashed with several other riders during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 159.5 kilometers (99.1 miles) with start in Antwerp and finish in Huy, Belgium, Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
HUY, BELGIUM - JULY 06: (L-R) William Bonnet of France riding for FDJ, Simon Gerrans of Australia riding for Orica-GreenEdge, Jose Mendes of Portugal riding for Bora-Argon 18, Greg Henderson of New Zealand riding for Lotto Soudal and Ramon Sinkeldam of the Netherlands riding for Giant-Alpecin lay on the ground after being involved in a crash with 65km remaining in stage three of the 2015 Tour de France from Anvers to Huy on July 6, 2015 in Huy, Belgium. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
HUY, BELGIUM - JULY 06: Riders litter the side of the road including Fabian Cancellara (Bottom R) of Switzerland riding for Trek Factory Racing in the overall race leader yellow jersey and Tom Dumoulin (Top R) of the Netherlands riding for Giant-Alpecin in the best young rider white jersey as they were involved in a crash with 65km remaining in stage three of the 2015 Tour de France from Anvers to Huy on July 6, 2015 in Huy, Belgium. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
William Bonnet of France holds his head after crashing with several other riders during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 159.5 kilometers (99.1 miles) with start in Antwerp and finish in Huy, Belgium, Monday, July 6, 2015. Bonnet abandoned the race following the crash. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
A doctor tends to William Bonnet of France after he crashed with several other riders during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 159.5 kilometers (99.1 miles) with start in Antwerp and finish in Huy, Belgium, Monday, July 6, 2015. Bonnet abandoned the race following the crash. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Laurens ten Dam of the Netherlands lies on the road after crashing with several of other riders during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 159.5 kilometers (99.1 miles) with start in Antwerp and finish in Huy, Belgium, Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
Scores of riders lie on the road after crashing during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 159.5 kilometers (99.1 miles) with start in Antwerp and finish in Huy, Belgium, Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
HUY, BELGIUM - JULY 06: William Bonnet of France riding for FDJ is attended to after being involved in a crash with 65km remaining in stage three of the 2015 Tour de France from Anvers to Huy on July 6, 2015 in Huy, Belgium. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
HUY, BELGIUM - JULY 06: Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland riding for Trek Factory Racing in the overall race leader yellow jersey is attended to after being involved in a crash with 65km remaining in stage three of the 2015 Tour de France from Anvers to Huy on July 6, 2015 in Huy, Belgium. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
New Zealand's Gregory Henderson continues the race with his torn jersey after crashing with several other riders during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 159.5 kilometers (99.1 miles) with start in Antwerp and finish in Huy, Belgium, Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
HUY, BELGIUM - JULY 06: Laurens Ten Dam of the Netherlands riding for Team LottoNL-Jumbo is attended to by medial personel after being involved in a crash with 65km remaining in stage three of the 2015 Tour de France from Anvers to Huy on July 6, 2015 in Huy, Belgium. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands is led to an ambulance after crashing with several other riders during the third stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 159.5 kilometers (99.1 miles) with start in Antwerp and finish in Huy, Belgium, Monday, July 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

Read Full Story

From Our Partners