Local pride was to the fore as Frenchman Thibaut Pinot won the penultimate stage of the 2015 Tour de France. The 20th stage provided one last opportunity for changes at the top of the pecking order. Second-placed Nairo Quintana attacked but could not do enough to dislodge Chris Froome.
There’s another day of racing to go but the shouting is essentially all over. Barring a bizarre turn of events, Froome will win a second Tour de France.
The Kenya-born 30-year-old finished fifth on the 110.5km 20th stage from Modane to Alpe d’Huez. But he but did just enough to keep nose ahead of Quintana.
He just needs to stay on his bike on Sunday’s final stage to Paris to add to his 2013 Tour success.
Dave Brailsford, manager of Froome’s Sky Team, paid tribute to his lead rider ahead of Sunday’s coronation at the Champs Elyseacute;es in Paris.
“His detractors don’t see what we see every day. He’s a credit to Britain,” Brailsford told British TV reporters.
“Chris is the most unbelievable competitor – the most polite guy off the bike – but on it the most resilient character I’ve met. He deserves more credit than he gets. The way he puts up with the abuse is unbelievable.”
During the tour Froome has been spat at, had urine thrown over him, and faced accusations of doping and of riding a motorised bicycle.
“I think after everything he’s endured, Chris has shown his real mettle,” Brailsford added.
Froome admitted he was struggling on the final climb up to Alpe d’Huez as Quintana gradually pulled away from him and started to erode his lead of 2 minutes 38 seconds.
Quintana, who finished second overall behind Froome two years ago, finished second on the stage. Pinot claimed it in three hours, 17 minutes and 21 seconds.
The 25-year-old attributed his victory to doggedness.
“It’s a victory I fought every day for. Yes, I’ve had a difficult Tour but I never gave up and the team never gave up,” said the FDJ leader. “We were always at the front over the last two weeks.”
FDJ had a terrible first week as William Bonnet crashed out during the third stage. They also lost Swiss rider Steve Morabito to another fall in the second week.
“For William we knew he was badly injured and it took time to recover from the shock, but after the first rest day we really got back on track and battled,” said Pinot.
“There’s a good atmosphere in the team and that allowed me to express my full potential.”
Pinot was in a breakaway on the 14th stage but eventually lost out to the Briton Steve Cummings. On stage 17 he was chasing the German Simon Geschke when he crashed on a descent, losing time before finishing fourth.
“I didn’t have any luck but that’s part of a career and part of sport – crashes, punctures, mechanical issues – it’s part of sport. But I never gave up and went on the attack every day,” said Pinot.
“I kept going to the end to win and that’s what counts.”
Having finished third last year he will end the campaign 16th this time around, almost 40 minutes behind Froome who paid tributes to his team mates ahead of Sunday’s champagne quaffing ceremonial procession into Paris.
“I was in difficulty during the stage,” he said. “I had to really try and find some reserves,” he said. “I had Richie Porte and Wouter Poels for company, they really turned themselves out and saved it for me in the end. Throughout this tour every single day from stage one, the guys have just been fantastic.”