The last racing stage of the 100t5h Tour de France ended with a burst of speed by Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, a 23-year-old Colombian riding in his first Tour. Quintana rode his way into a multiple victory—a stage, Best Young Rider, King of the Mountains, and the second podium spot in Paris tomorrow.
Sky’s Chris Froome finished third on the stage, earning himself the General Classification victory. The 28-year-old Brit won three decisive stages and proved himself the best of the GC contenders.
Froome finished second in 2012, helping Bradley Wiggins to become the first British rider to win the Tour. 2013 was Froome’s year and he made the most of it.
Katusha’s Joachim Rodriguez finished second, capturing third place in the overall.
“It’s an incredible win for me. It’s difficult to understand what has happened. I’m very, very happy for what happened today and during all the Tour,” Quintana told Cyclingnews.com.
“We controlled the attacks on the climb and were sure that we’d be able to do what our DS [directeur Sportif] had planned out for us. This is a special day for me and for Colombia. This is for everyone in Colombia: my family and all my friends, who have helped me so much. I want to thank everyone in Colombia.”
The stage came down to the final Hors Categorie climb, where Froome had to defend his yellow jersey against a handful of riders who were more than five minutes back, but all within less than a minute of one another.
Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger of Saxo-Tinkoff, Nairo Qintana of Movistar, and Joachim Rodriguez of Katusha were all fighting over podium spots; Quintana was also looking to win both best Young Rider and King of the Mountains.
Only a handful of riders were left at the head of the race a third of the way up the final climb: Contador and Kreuziger, Froome and Ritchie Porte, Quintana and his team mate Alejandro Valverde, and Joachim Rodriguez. The rest of the fields had already faded faced with the pace set by Katusha, Movistar, and Sky
It was Joachim Rodriguez who kicked off the attacks 8.3 km from the top of the climb. The Katusha rider waited until Froome looked away to talk to his team mate Ritchie Porte, and grabbed a quick gap before Froome could react. Nairo Quintana was immediately on the wheel of Rodriguez; Froome watched the pair start to ride away.
Suddenly Froome launched his own attack, catching and immediately passing the pair. Alberto Contador, second in GC, could not respond.
Rodriguez and Quintana caught the Sky leader 7.9 km from the summit; the three rode together, sharing the work for the next several kilometers, intent on increasing the gap back to the chasers.
Only Alejandro Valverde was able to chase. Contador followed Kreuziger until Kreuziger cracked, then rode just ahead of Ritchie Porte, who offered no assistance. Contador, a two-time Tour de France winner, was not on form this year—he couldn’t even maintain his gap to Froome.
Contador tried hard, but couldn’t hold on to his podium position. He will finish fourth in GC, just out of the honors.
As the finish line approached, Froome and Quintana let Rodriguez take the lead. The strain showed on the face of the Katusha rider, and Froome also could be seen breathing hard, while Quintana’s face was expressionless.
The three leaders watched and waited; finally, 1100 meters from the line, Chris Froome attacked. He opened a gap, but Quintana was able to close it and go right over the top of Froome; Rodriguez fought hard and also caught the Sky rider.
Quintana had about 80 meters lead 400 meters from the finish. Rodriguez made one more effort; he knew he couldn’t take second overall, but he could still win the stage. Quintana was too fast; he crossed the finish line 15 seconds ahead of Rodriguez.
Froome never reacted to Rodriguez’s attack. He was content to roll home thirds in the stage, about 128 seconds behind Quintana. Much as he would have liked a fourth stage win, Froome had won the bigger prize: he was first in GC in the 100th running of the world’s most prestigious cycling race. He would be wearing the yellow jersey onto the streets of Paris and climbing to the top step of the podium. For a bike racer, there is no greater reward.
“I can’t quite believe I’m sitting here in this position; it’s really quite amazing,” Froome told Eurosport. The race leader looked at the interviewer for a few seconds in silence, then chuckled and said, “Sorry, I’m a bit lost for words.
“Obviously we’ve still got to roll into Paris tomorrow but this is it this the GC side of it pretty much sorted out now, and wow, to finish it off like this is really special.
“It was quite hard to stay on top of it once I got to about three Ks to go and it sunk in that this it it now; I’ve accomplished what I needed.
“It was following the wheels then—well, I couldn’t really follow them. I was overwhelmed with that feeling that, ‘Okay this it s it now, I’m safe, I’ve got pretty much to the finish.’”
Voigt Adds Excitement Early
Stage 20 was short but full of climbs. Most of the early climbs were small; they would be contested by riders trying to score King of the Mountain points. The fifth of six climbs was the Cat One Mont Revard, a tough climb, but no one expected any fireworks there.
The stage finished with the Hors Categorie summit finish in Annecy-Semnoz; it was on this climb that GC contenders were expected to light up the stage.
This didn’t mean the rest of the stage was dull. It could have been but a flurry of early attacks injected some excitement.
The action started at the drop of the flag as Europcar’s Pierre Rolland attacked, followed by three riders: Jens Voigt (RadioShack,) Marcus Burghardt (BMC,) Juan Antonio Flecha (Vacansoleil.)
Five riders took off after this group: Cyril Gautier (Europcar,) Mikel Astarloza (Euskaltel,) Christophe Riblon (AG2R,) Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge,) and Pavel Brutt (Katusha.) Euskaltel’s Igor Anton bridged across to this group making it six.
Pierre Rolland was second in King of the Mountain points; he attacked at the peak of each climb to take the lead in that contest, fighting with Igor Anton, who tried to take the top points because his team mate Mikel Neive was next in the standings.
Meanwhile Movistar kept the pace high, keeping the break close so their rider Quintana could have a shot at the stage win.
Rolland won enough KOM points to take the lead, but he needed to win the final two climbs, worth 20 and 50 points, to secure his lead. He was not to succeed.
At the foot of the penultimate climb, RadioShack’s Jens Voigt, the oldest rider in the race, attacked the break.
Voigt’s solo attacks are legendary; often they fail, but sometimes he can ride a huge portion of a stage fast enough to evade all the chasers. Crowds love to see the 41-year-old German veteran ride for glory, his bike’s top tube inscribed with the words, “Shut up, legs!”
Voigt had 62 kilometers to race when he attacked, and a pack of very motivated riders chasing him. Nonetheless, the big German pressed on, not just opening but widening the gap to his pursuers. He had a margin of 35 seconds over Igor Anton, and more than two minutes on the rest of the chasers, when he crested the Cat One climb.
Voigt continued to stretch his lead over the score of flat kilometers leading up to the final climb. Until the final 15 kilometers, it seemed the unimaginable might happen: Jens Voigt might win another stage with one of his patented long solo attacks.
A kilometer later it became clear this was not to be his day. Movistar and Katusha had been leading the peloton, three minutes behind the leader, keeping him close. But a few kilometers from the start of the final climb, Sky came to the head of the peloton and radically increased the pace.
Sky cut Voigt’s margin in half by the start of the climb, and swallowed him up three kilometers up the hill. On another day he might have stayed away, but on this day, too many riders had too much at stake.
Procession Into Paris
The final stage of the Tour de France is traditionally a parade into the city of Paris, where the peloton starts racing over several laps of the city’s most famous streets, ending in a sprint finish, the most prestigious stage a sprinter can win.
GC contenders don’t race one another in the last stage; if a rider hasn’t been able to win the race in 20 stages of sprints, climbs, and time trials, he has to accept his lot and allow the winner a day of triumph.
Only a catastrophic crash could cost the GC leader his spot on the final day. The race will still have an exciting finish; Mark Cavendsih ahs won the final stage four years running, but this year the Manx Missile is not the most successful sprinter in the Tour.
That honor goes to Argos-Shimano’s Marcel Kittel, who has won three sprints so far, beating Cavendish head-to-head in Stage 12. Lotto’s André Greipel is also a favorite to win the stage.