The leader of the Tour de France won stage 15 in decisive fashion on Sunday, dominating the final kilometers of the climb to Mont Ventoux.
After a speedy start to the longest stage of the 2013 Tour, the 242.5km leg from Givors to the Giant of Provence, Chris Froome (Sky) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) found themselves together on the final steeps, having shed the other GC men as the ground tilted up, thanks in large measure to some leg-breaking efforts early on by Sky’s Peter Kennaugh and Richie Porte.
They worked together until the final 2km, when the yellow jersey laid down a final acceleration and left the young Colombian behind.
With one last glance over the shoulder Froome took the final corner and rode alone across the line, punching his right fist skyward. Quintana followed for second at 29 seconds.
“I didn’t imagine this,” said Froome. “This climb is so, so historical, it means so much to this race, especially being the 100th edition. I really didn’t see myself winning the stage today. My main objective was to try to get more of a buffer on the GC.”
And the race leader tipped his hat to the young Colombian who gave him such a battle.
“He’s a really strong climber. I didn’t expect it to be that hard to catch him,” said Froome. “When I did catch up to him I thought, ‘This guy’s gonna win the stage today.’”
Nieve and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) followed Froome and Quintana at 1:23, battling in a slow-motion sprint for third that Nieve took by a whisker.
Roman Kreuziger took fifth ahead of Saxo-Tinkoff teammate Alberto Contador, who lost 1:40 on the Giant of Provence. He remains third on the overall, 4:25 behind Froome. Bauke Mollema (Belkin), who likewise struggled on Ventoux, remains second at 4:14.
It was a double-jersey day for Froome, who took the mountains shirt for dessert. Quintana, meanwhile, rode himself into the white jersey of the best young rider, moving from eighth place overall into sixth at 5:47. And Peter Sagan (Cannondale) strengthened his grip on the green points jersey by getting into the break of the day. He now has 377 points out of a maximum of 745 on offer at this year’s Tour.
A long day in the saddle
A nine-man breakaway formed up early in the day, containing Sagan; Sylvain Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step); Wouter Poels (Vacansoleil-DCM); Daryl Impey (Orica-GreenEdge); Christophe Riblon (Ag2r La Mondiale); Alberto Losada Alguacil (Katusha); Pierrick Fedrigo and Jérémy Roy (FDJ); and Markel Irizar Aranburu (RadioShack-Leopard).
There were no threats for the overall and the escapees built a lead of seven minutes on the chasing bunch, led by Movistar.
Chavanel made a run for it, in the process taking the day’s combativity prize, but was caught halfway up the 20.8km trek to the Ventoux summit, and after some speculative attacks, Froome’s leading group began to thin in dramatic fashion as Sky’s Kennaugh and Porte set a steady pace.
Euskaltel’s Nieve attacked with 14km remaining, followed by Quintana. When Porte took over from a totally spent Kennaugh with 9.5km to race the damage began to pile up. Robert Gesink (Belkin) and Valverde were cast aside, as were Mollema and teammate Laurens ten Dam, as Froome followed Porte’s wheel with Contador just behind.
“When Richie took over, he really upped the pace and in the process got rid of the big GC guys on our wheels,” said Froome.
When Froome’s attack came, it was spectacular — he simply spun away from his Spanish rival. He caught Quintana with 6.7km to race and after testing the Colombian again rode away for good in the final 2km.
“We talked a little bit, I was just trying to motivate him, to keep pushing on, we’re getting more of an advantage,” Froome said. “Hats off to him, he started working with me. The last 2km, I didn’t even really attack, he just couldn’t hold the wheel anymore.”
Quintana likewise paid homage to the race leader.
“Right now, Froome is the strongest in the mountain. We will have to reconsider our strategy to try to take time on him,” he said.
“I think now we can fight to be on the podium in Paris. I was hoping to win the stage today, but Froome was just too strong. I did some pulls to see if we could arrive together. Right now, I want to maintain the white jersey, and we will try to reach the podium in Paris.”
Monday is the Tour’s second and final rest day. On Tuesday, the peloton faces the 168km stage from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap, with one category-3 ascent and two category 2s, including the 1,268m Col De Manse, which precedes the descent to the finish.
• It may have looked easy, but it apparently was not. Froome said he required “five to 10 minutes” of oxygen upon his arrival because he felt “faint and quite short of breath. I can’t remember ever taking oxygen.”
• The 2011 Tour champion, Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), had another bad day on the bike on Sunday. “Today was a terrible day for me. It’s another day that I could not live up to my expectations,” he said. “That is sport. You do everything you can to prepare. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. It didn’t turn out like we wanted. I have to forget it and try to recover as best I can for the final week. I still want to do something in this Tour. I still want to get some sort of results, but to win, I have no chance.”
• Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) also suffered on Ventoux, but he remained hopeful — not so much for himself as for his young teammate Quintana. “I didn’t have the best legs. I could not follow when the accelerations came,” he said. “No, I don’t think the GC fight is over. The final week is super-hard, there are a lot of climbs still to come. The hardest part of the Tour awaits us. We will keep fighting to try to get get Quintana on the podium.”
• Rodriguez, who lost that slo-mo sprint to Nieve, said it was “a difficult stage from the beginning. In the last climbing, I preferred to keep a regular pace, without replying to the attacks and accelerations. Thanks to this, I could give my best in the last part and recover as many seconds as possible.” He’s holding down eighth on GC, 7:11 behind Froome.
• Mollema did well to hold onto second overall on Sunday, finishing just six seconds behind Contador for eighth place on the day. “Chris Froome is really strong in the mountains,” he said. “But we knew that already.”
• Chavanel was delighted to have scored the combativity prize and hopes to continue flying the colors. “I’m happy because I was the most aggressive rider on Bastille Day,” Chavanel said. “It was unbelievable to hear all the supporters on the road cheering for me and for the riders in general. I hope to have given them a good day at the Tour. In the next days we will see what I can do. The course is not exactly for me, we go into the mountains, but you never know.”
• Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) only just made the top 40 on Ventoux, finishing nearly 11 minutes down, after apparently riding into a ditch.
• Greg LeMond, three times a victor at the Tour, told French TV that barring any mishap, Froome cannot be beaten. “It’s over,” said LeMond. “When you’re as good as Froome in the mountains, you drop everyone else and there is little they can do.”
• Sagan had a bit of fun once he’d added to his points tally. As the chase closed in on the break, the green jersey popped one of his trademark wheelies. “I’m very happy that I took some important points and that I put on a show when we got caught by the bunch; this wheelie that I did was for fun, it’s for the people — it makes a nice photo, no?”
Editor’s note: Agence France Presse contributed to this report. Stay tuned for more from the Tour de France.