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Cycling | Tour de France

Chris Froome © Getty Images

Vindicated Froome heading for record



When Chris Froome rolled over the line on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday to win his fourth Tour de France he took another step closer to greatness.

The 32-year-old Briton is now just one shy of the record five titles held by Belgian great Eddy Merckx, Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, and Spanish freight train Miguel Indurain.

That record had been broken once before, by the now disgraced Lance Armstrong, who ended his career with seven consecutive wins before being stripped of them all for a reign of doping that sullied the name of the sport.

Froome believes that he has several years left in him at the top level and no doubt will set his sights now on matching and indeed beating the record.

And unlike Armstrong, should he do so, his name will probably never be wiped from the record books.

Although suspicions haunted the Sky team leader earlier in his career as accusations of doping and the use of an electronic bike hounded him, this year his victory was notable also for the lack of such murky whisperings.

Not once during this Tour did any of Froome's performances come into question.

But then again, not once did Froome strike a blow to dispirit as well as defeat his opponents – for the first time, in fact, he failed to win a single stage.

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"Given the course that we had this year it was always the tactic to ride a three week race and not go out one day with the aim to blow the race apart or smash it with a stage win," he said.

"It was just about chipping away on every stage and making sure there weren't any massive loses on any day."

In previous years, notably at Ax 3 Domaines in 2013 and La Pierre Saint Martin in 2015, a blistering burst of acceleration on a tough climb left all rivals in his wake and drew gasps of astonishment on the roads – and guffaws of incredulity among the press corps.

But not this time. Froome couldn't ride his rivals off his wheel this year.

In fact, he never struck a telling blow in the mountains, often beaten or at best equal to his closest rivals when going head to head on an uphill finish.

GRATEFUL

And most notably, in the Pyrenees, on the brutally steep Peyragudes finish to stage 12, six rivals from the top 10 left Froome in their wake.

"Yes, I suffered in the Pyrenees and lost 20 seconds that day up to Peyragudes but I'm very grateful it wasn't any worse than that," said Froome.

"If you have a bad day in the mountains you can lose minutes."

This year, more than ever, Froome won the Tour in the time-trials, having actually given up time to both Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran outside of the races against the clock.

But while several rivals can at least match Froome on the climbs, none can crush him and he remains the best time-trialist among the climbers.

His winning margin may have been his smallest yet at just 54sec from Uran – and the race was thrilling and unpredictable throughout – but Froome remains the best and his team is far stronger than any of the rest.

And it is hard to see how anyone is going to make the significant gains necessary to relieve him of the Tour crown over the next few years.

Nairo Quntana has been touted as a future Tour winner for years, but last year he was timid and this year spent after riding May's Giro d'Italia.

Bardet continues to progress year on year and is becoming more aggressive, more daring and more complete.

But he admitted to disliking time-trial training and that was where Froome defeated him.

Until he improves there, he risks emulating French legend Raymond Poulidor rather than the likes of Anquetil and Hinault.

Three times runner-up and five times third, Poulidor's consistency was remarkable, but he never won the Tour.

Bardet has in his short career finished sixth, ninth, second and third from four appearances.

Perhaps the best bet to dethrone Froome is his former Sky teammate Richie Porte, but the Australian will need some better luck, or greater concentration.

Since his seventh-placed finish at the Giro on his debut in 2010, Porte has promised much, yet too often failed to deliver.

His only notable Grand Tour performance since was fifth at last year's Tour while crashes have seen him quit the 2015 Giro and this year's Tour.

Perhaps one of Froome's greatest attributes is his luck – or rather his lack of bad luck.

Other riders have a series of bad luck stories to explain their defeats, but Froome doesn't need those, he rarely loses.

And he doesn't look likely to lose at the Tour any time soon either.



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