Quintana's strong attack on the Tour's final mountain climb is not enough to overcome Froome's GC lead

ALPE D’HUEZ, France (AFP) — Chris Froome (Sky) all but sewed up his second career Tour de France victory Saturday, limiting his losses to an aggressive Nairo Quintana (Movistar) in the Tour’s 20th stage. Quintana jumped clear of the overall race leader on the slopes of the Alpe d’Huez climb, but he was unable to put enough distance between himself and Froome to overhaul the Briton in the general classification. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), at the head of the race after escaping from the pack earlier on in the day, took the stage victory atop the climb 18 seconds ahead of Quintana, salvaging something from his disappointing Tour de France.

Just as in 2013, Froome, 30, fought off an Alpine comeback attempt from Quintana to beat the 25-year-old Movistar leader to Tour success. This year’s final battle took place on the 13.8km climb to the finish at Alpe d’Huez at the end of a 110.5km stage from Modane. Froome, who started the day with a GC buffer of 2:38 to Quintana, dug in to finish the stage fifth, 1:20 behind the Colombian. Quintana took six bonus seconds on the line but that still left him 1:12 short of Froome on GC, a gap that is less than the minute-and-a-half Quintana had given up to Froome almost three weeks ago on the second stage of the race, when Quintana was caught behind a crash in crosswinds.

“It really was a tough today but at the finish it was incredible, an incredible feeling and emotion,” said Froome.

Stage winner Thibaut Pinot made it into a small group of attackers, which included the likes of Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar), on the descent from the Col de la Croix de Fer a little less than 50km from the finish. On the final climb, Pinot was the strongest of the escapees, passing his teammate Alexandre Geniez, the last survivor of the early breakaway, on the way up. After dropping everyone in his group, Pinot pressed on alone trying to maintain a gap over Nairo Quintana, who was charging up the mountain not far behind attempting to put as much space as possible between himself and Chris Froome.

Quintana had already attacked on the hors categorie Col de la Croix de Fer some 60km from the finish, where he briefly opened up a gap on Froome before a small lead peloton regrouped on the descent. Then, right from the foot of the Alpe d’Huez climb, Quintana renewed his efforts, launching attack after attack on the steep gradients.

Froome’s Sky teammate Wout Poels chased Quintana down the first three times he went on the move, but the Colombian finally got clear with his fourth attack. From there it was a race against time as Quintana tried to hunt down Thibaut Pinot up the road in pursuit of a stage win, while also aiming to claw back his deficit to Froome for overall success. By the end of the climb, though, Quintana had come up short on both counts.

“I gave everything right from the first week. We had some difficulties because I had crashed and I was alone in the wind. I lost a minute and 30 seconds and that’s what lost me the Tour,” said Quintana.

“It was the last day and I had to try, I had to go for it,” said Quintana. “I thought we could get away on the Col de la Croix de Fer but it didn’t work.

“I tried again on the final climb and got some time but it wasn’t enough and I lost the Tour.”

Top 10, stage 20

 

Top 10, GC

 

Froome had a healthy cushion going into the stage but Quintana’s strong legs did give him cause for worry on the final climb. “I knew I had a 2:38 lead to keep the jersey but at one point it was difficult because I realized he might win,” Froome said.

Sky manager Dave Brailsford told ITV4 that the final battle had been closer than the team expected. “It was a bit close in the end. I think after everything he’s endured, Chris has shown his real mettle,” said Brailsford.

Barring an unlikely crash, Froome, with his 1:12 lead over Quintana after the final mountain climb of the race, will be crowned Tour champion following Sunday’s final stage to Paris, a largely a processional affair that typically ends in a sprint. He also now has an insurmountable lead in the king of the mountains classification, and is therefore set to be the first Tour de France GC-winner to take the KOM title as well since Eddy Merckx did it in 1970.

Froome may have this year’s race all but won, but Froome said he expects Quintana to be back next year pushing him hard again. “He’s young, he’s very strong and has a great mentality. He races hard, and at the right times,” said Froome.

“He’s got a great future and I think next year we’ll come back to do battle again.”

Stage 20 results

General classification

Best young rider

Points classification

Mountains classification

Teams classification