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“The challenge is even bigger this year, I feel as if the level of rivals is even higher,” said Chris Froome before the Tour de France began in Dusseldorf. Three weeks later and his projection proved true as he won the race by his slimmest margin yet: just 54 seconds.
Things had started well for the Briton, now a four-time champion, as he put at least 30 seconds into each of his main rivals on the opening time-trial in Dusseldorf. But what came next was a test that neither he nor his team had faced before.
It was a dramatic Tour, for many reasons. World champion Peter Sagan was sensationally kicked out for elbowing Mark Cavendish in the sprint finish to the fourth stage, won by Frenchman Arnaud Demare.
Cavendish suffered a broken collarbone, and Sagan paid the penalty, although many riders criticised the decision. In the overall battle, everyone was waiting for the first uphill finish on the fifth stage at La Planche des Belles Filles, where Froome had taken his first stage win in 2012.
This time, though, he was beaten into third as Fabio Aru took a brilliant solo victory with Dan Martin even distancing Froome into third.
Beaten on the day, Froome did, however, take the yellow jersey off his loyal lieutenant Geraint Thomas, the shock winner of the opening time-trial, albeit against the backdrop of accusations from rival team FDJ about the skinsuits used by Sky, with little Vortex air pellets one detractor claimed were “banned”.
That story would peter out with little more fuss. There was something familiar about seeing Froome in yellow and Sky in control of the peloton but things were far from straight-forward, not only for Froome. – AFP