Sky’s Chris Froome proved himself to be the strongest rider in the peloton by decisively winning the tortuous Stage 15 of the 100th Tour de France, leaving everyone else behind on the moonscape slopes of Mont Ventoux.
Froome attacked seven kilometers from the finish line, when only two-time winner Alberto Contador was left with him—the rest of the peloton had already failed to hold the pace.
Contador clung to Froome’s wheel for a few seconds, then dropped back. The Sky rider set off after Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, the incredible Colombian climber, and caught him within 500 meters.
The two rode together for five kilometers; Froome attacked occasionally, but couldn’t shake the 23-year-old Colombian. Froome waited until the final 1400 km of the climb, launched a sustained attack and finally dropped his young rival.
This left Froome with a kilometer of ever-steepening road to the finish line; the Sky team leader didn’t falter, spinning his pedals at 100 rpm on his way to victory and an even larger lead in the General Classification.
It is impossible to overstate either how dominating Froome’s performance was, nor how important.
The race leader not only extended his lead to over four minutes over second-placed Bauke Mollema of Belkin and third-placed Alberto Contador; Froome also proved himself to be the best rider at the head of the best team, uncatchable in the mountains which will dominate the final week of the Tour. In all likelihood, today’s performance won the Tour for Chris Froome.
The Sky team leader told Eurosport after the race that he hadn’t even expected to win the stage:
“I didn’t imagine this. This climb is so historic it means so much to this race, especially being the 100th edition. I really didn’t see myself winning this stage today; I thought I’d have to surrender the stage to Quintana in the final. My main objective was to try and get more of a buffer on the GC but I really didn’t see myself winning that stage today. I really can’t believe it.
Froome expected Movistar’s Nairo Quintana to attack, but not 12.3 km from the summit.
“He’s a really strong climber. I did expect him to go a little bit further up but I wasn’t expecting it to be that hard to try to catch him. When I did catch up to him I thought, ‘This guy’s going to win the stage today and I’m going to have to settle for whatever advantage I can take on the rest of the guys.’
“In the last two Ks I think, he started fading and I had a little bit left.”
After Froome tried to shake the young Colombain rider a few times, unsuccessfully, the two talked a bit before riding on in tandem.
“We talked a little bit,” Froome explained. “I was just trying to motivate him, saying ‘Come on, man, let’s just keep pushing on, we’re getting more of an advantage on the guys behind us,’ and hats off to him, he started working with me, the two of us started working.
“The last two Ks I don’t think I even attacked; he couldn’t hold the wheel anymore.” (Quintana finished second and also won the Best Young Rider jersey.)
Froome, a transplanted Kenyan living in the U.K., not only increased his lead in General Classification, he also won the King of the Mountains jersey, an incidental honor compared to the feat of crossing the barren peak after the brutal ascent of Mont Ventoux far ahead of the best cyclists in the world.
Froome is also the first British rider ever to win on this hardest of Tour climbs.
Sky Proves its Power
Froome won this stage with the help of his team, and the Sky squad scored a huge victory of its own. After leading Froome to victory in Stage Eight, the team collapsed on Stage Nine, calling into question whether Froome could count on them for the alpine stages.
The Sky squad proved that Stage Nine was an anomaly. Once on the slopes of Mont Ventoux Sky set a monstrous pace, with Peter Kennaugh dragging the peloton halfway up the climb where Ritchie Porte took over and pushed even harder.
Porte’s pace was too much for almost everyone; only his team leader and Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank were able to stick to Porte’s wheel. When Porte finally pulled off, 7.2 km from the finish line, Froome immediately attacked and that was the race.
Plenty of Mountains Left, But Froome Looks Like the Winner
The Tour is far from over. The final week includes a time trial with two Cat Two climbs and a pair of epic mountain stages, including Stage 18, which climbs the Hors Categorie Alpe d’Huez twice, finishing atop it after the second climb.
Stage 19 features five hugely difficult categorized climbs—two Hors categories, a Cat Two, and a pair of Cat Ones.
Stage 20 is arguably even harder, with six categorized climbs and an Hors Categorie summit finish.
If Chris Froome has a bad day, he could crack on any of these climbs. He could lose his lead and lose the race.
Unlikely. Chris Froome came into the Tour as the undisputed favorite, and his performance so far has shown that estimate to be accurate. His Sky team was also generally judged to be the strongest team, and on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, they proved it.
Barring injury or that hideously fickle hand of fate, Chris Froome has won the 100th edition of the Tour de France with his ride up Mont Ventoux today.