• Chris Froome on Stage 18 from Briancon and Izoard. (Getty)Source: Getty
It would seem the cycling world spent much of the season questioning the form of Chris Froome and whether he would claim a fourth Tour de France title.
Jane Aubrey

Cycling Central
25 Jul 2017 - 7:46 AM  UPDATED 25 Jul 2017 - 7:58 AM

And yet on Sunday, 23 July that the Team Sky rider once again stood atop the podium on the Champs Elysees, making a thank you speech in the polite, gentlemanly manner we have become accustomed.

Since his first tour victory in 2013, Froome had always begun his season with a win in February and maintained that form right up to the grand depart. That was not the case this year, a brief attack in the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race burned out quickly before Orica-Scott's Damien Howson upset the defending champion at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour.

The 32-year-old finishing fourth overall at the Critérium du Dauphiné seemed to give our suspicions more credence. What’s more, the parcours for this year’s Tour de France did not play to his strengths. When Froome himself pointed towards former teammate and now rival Richie Porte as favourite to claim the Maillot Jaune, we all nodded in agreement. Froome’s reign was coming to an end. The rider and his team derided for the robotic nature in which they go about victory was going to go down the same way in defeat. Weren’t they?

So how did we get here?

Froome was in yellow for the majority of the race and it felt like he defended the race least from the second he rolled down the start ramp in Dusseldorf. We have just witnessed a thriller of a race with less than a minute separating the main contenders for much of the three weeks.

Speaking on the Champs Elysees, Froome admitted: “This Tour has been my toughest challenge yet. The performances of my rivals have pushed me harder than ever before.”

Regular members of the #couchpeloton will know that one of the frequently asked questions to come their way at this time of the year surrounds the peculiarities around cycling as a team sport when just one man is declared the winner. Needless to say that the fact that Froome has taken his fourth Tour de France win without crossing the finish line first on a single stage will add to the confusion.

Team Sky simply waged a war of attrition on Froome’s rivals for him. The efforts of Vasil Karyienka, Michal Kwiatkowski and Mikel Landa as the pressure built over the punchy parcours set up their teammate perfectly. As we have come to expect, it becomes nearly impossible to gain any ground from their select group with the numbers game simply too strong. What’s more, the handful of riders who were genuine contenders – Rigoberto Uran, Romain Bardet, Fabio Aru and maybe Dan Martin – all played to Team Sky’s tune. Tactically, Team Sky’s race was a masterpiece.

Apart from a few moments when Froome couldn’t match the sublime bike handling skills of Kwiatkowski on the descent, the finale to the Peyragudes was perhaps the only moment when we could honestly doubt his ability to come out on top. What’s more, Team Sky protected Froome a man down after Geraint Thomas was forced to abandon.

One doesn’t have to look too far back to find the last time the Tour was ‘won’ without winning a stage. Oscar Pereiro’s name is listed as the winner in 2006 after Floyd Landis had his record removed for doping offences. Greg LeMond was victorious in 1990 when he played catch-up for much of the race, only riding into yellow on the penultimate stage. That victory would be LeMond’s third overall win.

Prior to that, it happened in 1966 when Lucian Aimar, a team-mate of Jacques Anquetil, benefitted from being in the right move on the 17th stage. Anquetil, not wanting his great rival Raymond Poulidor to win, ensured that Aimar’s lead was safe on Stage 18 before abandoning the race a day later.

In 1982, Bernard Hinault was hurtling towards his fourth Tour win without his name against a stage only to take out the bunch sprint on the Champs Elysees.

Froome and his teammates won’t be losing any sleep about the way they won the 104th edition of the Tour. Landa might, but that's another story. The history books don’t record panache, only a name and the year.

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