Chris Froome moved closer to a maiden Tour de France title with an awe-inspiring victory on top of the intimidating Mont Ventoux,pulling away from his rivals in brutal fashion seven kilometres from the finish on Sunday.
The British rider stayed rooted to his saddle as he left Alberto Contador for dead with an attack which,if not easy on the eye due to his jutting elbows and nodding head,proved ruthlessly efficient.
He crossed the line 29 seconds ahead of Colombian Nairo Quintana,who had launched an attack 13km from the finish.
Team Sky’s Froome,who showed he is unbeatable on a single climb,now leads Dutchman Bauke Mollema by 4:14 in the overall standings. This is roughly the same as Alberto Contador’s winning margin over Andy Schleck when the Spaniard won in the Tour in 2009 after three weeks of racing.
Contador,the 2007 and 2009 champion,crossed the line in sixth place after the 242.5-km 15th stage,1:40 behind Froome to leave him third overall,4:25 off the pace. Mollema was eighth on the day six seconds behind Contador.
Froome had lost 1:09 to Contador on Friday’s flat stage after being trapped by the Spaniard’s Team Saxo-Tinkoff,but he came back with a bang.
“I did not imagine this. This climb is so historic,it means so much to this race. My goal was to take time from my GC (general classification) rivals,” added Froome,who had to be supplied with oxygen at the finish after the 20.8-km climb at an average gradient of 7.5 per cent.
Spaniard Contador had no answer to Froome’s attack seven kilometres from the finish,just like he could not respond to his rival’s acceleration in the previous mountain-top finish in the Pyrenees.
There are,however,two gruelling stages left in the Alps,with several tough climbs on the menu.
These will provide the perfect terrain for Sky’s rivals to try to isolate Froome,like they did in the second Pyrenean stage.
Some of the top names in the sport were knocked out of contention on Sunday.
Andy Schleck,the 2010 champion who had targeted the stage win,almost rode into a low dry stone wall in the first part of the climb and finished 10:42 behind.