Froome, Quintana set for epic Tour de France rivalry

Tour de France 2015’s winner Great Britain’s Christopher Froome (right) shakes hand with second-placed Colombia’s Nairo Quintana. AFP PHOTO

Tour de France 2015’s winner Great Britain’s Christopher Froome (right) shakes hand with second-placed Colombia’s Nairo Quintana. AFP PHOTO

PARIS: Many both in the peloton and watching from afar may have groaned when Chris Froome said he intended to ride on for another six to eight years, but not everyone is disappointed.

There are some who feel the domination Froome has shown at times in winning his two Tour de France titles — in 2013 and again this month — has taken the gloss off the greatest cycle race in the world.

And yet, that would be to ignore what turned out to be one of the most thrilling Tours in recent memory.

The final 1min 12sec victory margin was the closest since Carlos Sastre of Spain finished 58sec ahead of Australian Cadel Evans in 2008.

And even that does no justice to the exciting final two stages in which Nairo Quintana started eating into Froome’s lead with incessant attacks every time the road angle started rising.

Two years ago, Quintana was second to Froome at 4min 20sec — a margin that would have been 43sec greater but for the Briton slowing down on the final stage to cross the finish line arm-in-arm with his Sky teammates.

Quintana has greatly closed that gap and at 25 is five years younger than Froome.

Quite apart from embarking on a period of Froome domination, the Tour stands to witness one of the great cycling rivalries.

Cycling has seen some great such duels in the past, notably between Italians Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, or Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor, but Froome and Quintana could match or even eclipse any of those.

One of the most intriguing aspects is that rather than two riders reaching their prime at the same time, one is on his way up while the other should be coming out of his — much like the situation in tennis a few years ago with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, as opposed to football’s clash between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Froome received a lot of bad press on the 2015 Tour, with some accusing him of doping or riding a motorized bicycle, slurs Quintana has not had to put up with.

And yet, arguably, what gave Froome victory over the Colombian was circumstance.

A crash on the windy second stage in the Netherlands held up Quintana and his Movistar team, a split formed in the peloton and in crosswinds, that can be fatal.

By the finish, Quintana had lost 1min 28sec to Froome — more than the final winning margin.

It was the Briton’s surge and victory on the first Pyrenean summit finish on stage 10 that most caused consternation, although he beat Quintana by just 1min 04sec.

On Alpe d’Huez, the Colombian put 1min 20sec into Froome without eliciting any doping suspicions.

Over the course of the race, Quintana, as was to be expected, was the strongest rider in the mountains — although not by much from Froome.

But perhaps from a spectacle point of view, what was most exciting was how one rider pulled out a lead before the other started reeling him in — Quintana just left this sprint finish til a touch too late

The Colombian is not as good a time-triallist as Froome and with his slight frame, he is vulnerable on flat stages on the open roads.

It makes for a rivalry that is sure to ebb and flow, with one taking time against the clock or in crosswinds, and the other clawing it back on the climbs.

This year’s Tour route perhaps suited Quintana more than Froome and the fear may be that the Briton would win more easily on a course with more individual time-trialling.

But what Quintana proved this year is that he has matured.

In 2013 he lost time after launching attacks in the Pyrenees too far from the finish and running out of steam.

This time he was more patient and calculated — perhaps too much — and he is sure to continue improving both physically and tactically as the years progress.

Froome may be already as good as he will ever be.

Time will tell, but this is a battle that could be played out many more times at the Tour de France.



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