July 22, 2013 3:40:57 am
Chris Froome was riding to victory in the 100th Tour de France on Sunday,dominating rivals over three weeks on the road and having coolly and adroitly dealt with doping suspicions off it.
In two years,Britain will have had two different winners: Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and now Froome,a calmer more understated but no less determined character than his Sky teammate with famous sideburns.
Froome rode into Paris in style in the canary yellow race leaders jersey he took on Stage 8 and never relinquished,vigorously staving off rivals whose concerted attacks turned this Tour into a thriller.
The 100th edition was visually stunning,too,starting with a first-ever swing through Corsica,Frances so-called island of beauty, before veering through the Pyrenees to Brittany and then across France to the races crescendo in the Alps,3,404 gruelling kilometers in total.
The final Stage 21 set off from the magnificent Versailles Palace,the former residence of three kings and their seat of power until the French revolution of 1789.
The riders were granted the privilege of riding through the palaces manicured gardens,resplendent in their brightly colored team jerseys as they pedaled past lakes like mirrors,spurting fountains and unmoved statues.
Cest formidable, Froome said before leading the pack off on what was expected to be a leisurely 133-kilometer (82-mile) jaunt ending with a competitive sprint on the Champs-Elysees by riders chasing the stage win. The fact that Froome speaks French has been gratefully noted by fans here.
Froomes clear physical superiority made him king of the 100th Tour. He set off on the last stage with a race lead of more than 5 minutes. If he retains that to the finish,as expected,it would be the largest winning margin since 1997,when Jan Ullrich beat Richard Virenque by 9 minutes,9 seconds. Ullrich has since admitted to doping and Virenque also confessed to using performance-enhancers.
Lance Armstrong had larger margins of victory than Froome but all seven of the Texans wins were stripped from him last year for serial doping,his name literally crossed out in the Tours official history.
At the first Tour since that shockwave,Froome had to ride through a barrage of doubt and skepticism,especially since his strength in the mountains and time trials reminded some observers of Armstrong and the way he and his team used to suffocate the race.
Unlike other riders who cut short questions about doping and bristled,Froome said he was happy to discuss the issue that has so poisoned his sport. He insisted he rode clean and said he,too,felt let down by his cheating predecessors.
Froome also argued that his success demonstrates that cyclings anti-doping system,now among the most rigorous,invasive and sustained of any sport must be working,because otherwise he wouldnt be able to win.
None of 100th Tours podium finishers,Froome,Colombian Nairo Quintana and Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez,have failed a drug test or been directly implicated in any of cyclings litany of doping scandals. That is an encouraging and notable departure both from Armstrongs era and many other Tour podiums before and since.
A group of Kenyan riders in yellow jerseys stood with their arms held high and fists clenched in triumph on Sunday.
Thousands of miles from Paris and the Tours final stage,around 300 cyclists were led on the parade by the dreadlocked David Kinjah,Froomes earliest mentor when the soon-to-be Tour winner first got on a bike as a schoolboy in the hills just outside Nairobi. Some,like Kinjah,wore helmets,sunglasses and sleek cycling clothes. Others were in shorts and sneakers. They were all smiling. It is not a race guys,OK? Kinjah told the riders. We are just celebrating the yellow jersey.
The procession reflected whats expected to be a ceremonial ride for Froome to the Champs Elysees and his first Tour title later Sunday,the pinnacle for a rider who first learned his trade under Kinjah in the Kenyan hills and valleys surrounded by coffee and tea plantations,and who will reach the pinnacle of his sport on the famous boulevards of the French capital.
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