• Chris Froome (Sky) is the rider to beat in the final time trial tonight (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Of the Tours de France that Chris Froome (Sky) has won in the past, none have featured a time trial as the final major test, writes Rob Arnold.
By
Rob Arnold

Source:
Cycling Central
22 Jul 2017 - 9:29 AM  UPDATED 22 Jul 2017 - 9:37 AM

In 2013 the penultimate stage concluded on a climb at Semnoz; in 2015 it was another mountain-top finish, at Alpe d’Huez; and in 2016 the final Saturday was in the Alps and a finish in Morzine.

Each time Froome held a significant time buffer to his main rivals and in each instance some of his advantage was gained in the time trials that came earlier in the race.

Furthermore, when he first finished on the podium at the Tour (in 2012), Froome finished second in the penultimate stage, won by the champion that year, teammate Bradley Wiggins. That was a flat, long race against the clock and Froome lost just one minutre and 16 seconds to ‘Wiggo’.

Of the seven stages Froome has won at the Tour, two have been time trials, both on challenging courses. The first TT win was from Embrun to Chorges in 2013, the second TT win was in Megève last year when he was 21 second ahead of Tom Dumoulin and 33 seconds ahead of both Fabio Aru and Richie Porte.

Froome has, to date, raced the 2017 Tour without winning a stage. But along with time trial world champion Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin), he is one of the favourites for the penultimate stage of the 104th Tour.

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After stage 19, he spoke about his hopes for the time trial which will be contested in Marseille tonight.

“I think I have to treat it like any other time trial that I’ve done before,” he said in Salon de Provence.

“I have to do everything right.

“I’m not going to go out there and take any big risks – which is the same as in Düsseldorf," when he was sixth on the day his team-mate Geraint Thomas won.

“When I can push,” he said of the race on the 22.5km course in Marseille, “I”ll push. But it’s certainly not a course that I’m going out [on] looking to risk everything.

“I’m obviously in a fantastic position now and I’d much rather be in this position than the position of second or third of fourth and having to try and make up time on someone else, so that gives me a lot of confidence.”

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Froome leads last year’s runner-up, Romain Bardet, by 23 seconds after 3,414.5km. In third place is former Sky teammate Rigoberto Uran who now races for Cannondale-Drapac. The Colombian has won a Giro TT in the past and he is 29 seconds behind the yellow jersey.

Meanwhile, the opportunity for Mikel Landa (Sky) to wrestle his way onto the podium exists. The Spaniard has proven to be one of the strongest riders in the race this year but he’s been riding at the service of Froome and is still ranked fourth overall, one minute and 36 seconds behind Froome.

Going on past form, it’s fair to say that Sky is likely to win the Tour and possibly claim the final time trial as well. But, arguably, one of the final questions to be answered at this year’s race is: will Sky get two riders in the top three on the Parisian podium?

Many who follow the race would like to believe there’s still a sense of anticipation about who the champion will be in 2017 but, going on past form, it’s fair to say that the winner has been decided before the penultimate stage. That’s how it has been for all of Froome’s previous wins, but will the pressure of the TT upset the apple cart?

Not even that is likely. Froome is composed and in control. He is not riding in the wake of a teammate or holding himself back so that Sky’s designated leader could win, as was the case in 2012. He’s not wondering if there’ll be a surprise coup from Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who won the penultimate stage and closed in on the yellow jersey in 2013. He is not suffering illness like in 2015 when Quintana put him to the sword at Alpe d’Huez. And he is not having to race with injuries sustained in a crash a day before the final true challenge like he had to in 2016.

There are riders much closer to Froome’s yellow jersey with only the final weekend to go than there have been at the equivalent time in the years of his victories but they don’t quite have the pedigree, equipment or support that Team Sky has in 2017.

Bardet and Uran won’t surrender easily but to take the yellow jersey they have to beat Froome in Marseille. That’s not likely but this is cycling. Anything can happen.

For the sake of argument, perhaps the biggest challenge for Froome’s title will come from Landa, the rider who seems to have been held back in a month when he’s possibly even stronger than his designated team leader. But that would be the stuff of legend. If Landa beat Froome by over one minute and 36 seconds in the time trial, the organisers would have the dream scenario: the lead changing in the last major challenge.

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