Chris Froome pays the price for over ambitious fourth Grand Tour and Giro-Tour double title tilt

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Chris Froome has every reason to want to get home after the Tour de France. His wife Michelle is due to give birth any day now, a second child for the Team Sky rider.

But when he told reporters in Laruns that he was ready for this race to be over, it was easy to think of other reasons the four-time Tour winner might have had enough.

“I have a little baby girl on the way in the next few days,” Froome said after a day of struggles in the Pyrenees. “Hopefully I make it home in time for that.

“This is now the fourth Grand Tour that I’ve raced consecutively and I’m looking forward to a bit of rest.”

A second-place finish in Saturday’s time-trial saw him claim third place overall as team-mate Geraint Thomas succeeded him as the Tour champion.

Froome has seemed genuinely happy for Thomas, but merely a place on the podium is not what he came to France for.

He was looking to win a record-equalling fifth Tour title, to complete a rare Giro-Tour double, and to win a fourth straight Grand Tour.

He arrived in France having just been cleared of wrongdoing in the Salbutamol case which had hung over him since the end of the Vuelta a Espana in September last year.

Whether it was the physical exhaustion in his legs or the emotional energy spent on a nine-month fight to clear his name – or a bit of both – Froome never looked able to impose himself on this Tour.

A late excursion into a field on the opening stage cost him 51 seconds, and he never got off the back foot for the rest of the three weeks.

Though that crash caused him the biggest single loss of time, the first real sign all was not well came five days later on the stage to Mur-de-Bretagne.

It only cost him five seconds, but Froome could not hold the wheel of Thomas on the short, steep climb to the finish.

Sky continued to insist it was just a small mistake and not a warning sign regarding his form.

Things did not improve in the Alps. Froome tried to attack late on the Alpe d’Huez, but was almost immediately shut down by Tom Dumoulin and Romain Bardet.

Such things did not used to happen to Froome but Sky stuck to their script. Wait until the third week, they said. That is when he will come good.

That good patch never came, and as they climbed the final mountain of this Tour, Froome span away on the pedals with his tongue hanging out, dropping 30 seconds behind Thomas and his rivals.

It was one of the images of the Tour to see this four-time winner on the brink of cracking completely, needing to be paced back on by the outstanding 21-year-old Egan Bernal.

None of this is to say the Froome era is over. Over the past 12 months, the 33-year-old has won three consecutive Grand Tours – a phenomenal achievement – and on his day remains the strongest General Classification rider in the world.

He has perhaps paid for over-ambition in this Tour, even if he refused to blame his Giro-Tour double attempt for his inability to keep up.

“The Giro-Tour double is still possible, maybe not this year, but this is my fourth Grand Tour in a row so to be in this position is incredible,” he said in the final days of the Tour.

Froome seems certain to skip La Vuelta now, and turn his attention to 2019.

That record-equalling fifth Tour title will surely be his focus – but he will have to prise team leadership back from Thomas to pursue it.

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After a 109-year wait for a British Tour de France winner, we've now had six in the last seven years

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You wait 109 years for a British winner of the Tour de France, then three come along at once.

But though Geraint Thomas now joins Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in standing on the top step of the podium in Paris, between them winners of six of the last seven Tours, this is a different story.

Wiggins and Froome were the undisputed leaders of Sky in each of their wins – with the brief moment that Froome dropped Wiggins in 2012 before sitting up a talking point that lingers to this day.

The first British-born winner of the Tour represents a victory, if not for the underdog, then for the worker bee finally allowed a moment in the sun.

Thomas rode in support of Froome in each of his four Tour victories, and arrived in France this summer with most expecting he would end up doing the same again.

As Froome and Sir Dave Brailsford fielded the questions of the world’s media at their press conference on the eve of the race, Thomas spent much of the time staring into space. He was not even asked to speak until the event broke into smaller huddles.

Sir Bradley Wiggins was the first British winner of the Tour de France in 2012.

Sir Bradley Wiggins was the first British winner of the Tour de France in 2012.

But Thomas had other ideas. He had prepared himself to race as Team Sky’s leader – a possibility that could well have arisen as Froome’s Salbutamol case lingered over the first half of the season.

When Froome was finally cleared, just days before the Tour began, Thomas was not ready simply to drop back into a supporting role.

He was here to race, adamant that the leadership picture would be settled in the Alps.

We were all guilty of not truly listening to him as he outlined his vision of contending for victory. Sure, they might both start as protected riders, but such is Froome’s calibre in this race, it seemed that if leadership questions were to be settled on the road, they would only go one way.

Thomas knew better. By the time the race reached the mountains, he was the man in front, and his back-to-back victories in La Rosiere and Alpe d’Huez had stamped his authority on the race.

Sky continued at that point to insist that nothing had changed, that Froome would come good in the third week.

Either they were bluffing or they got it wrong regarding the four-time Tour winner, who simply could not match the strength being shown by Thomas.

By the second rest day, the picture seemed set, and Froome began to discuss the possibility of riding for the man who for so long had served as his domestique.

Chris Froome continued Sky's dominance of the race, winning in 2013 and three times in a row from 2015-17.

Chris Froome continued Sky’s dominance of the race, winning in 2013 and three times in a row from 2015-17.

Thomas raced smartly. The first week of the Tour was designed to throw up obstacles for those chasing yellow and duly did, but Thomas emerged unscathed, dodging the crashes and even scooping up bonus seconds to elevate himself above the other contenders.

It was the start of a pattern. In all Thomas scooped up 33 bonus seconds in this Tour. Take away those and give back Dumoulin the 20 seconds he was penalised for drafting off a team car, and things would have been much more nervous going into Saturday’s time trial.

There was one brief wobble on Saturday, when Thomas’ wheel threatened to slip from under him with 19km of the General Classification fight remaining.

It was the kind of moment where you might have expected Thomas, who has a perhaps unfair reputation for being crash-prone, to let it all slip away and add the most significant entry yet to his lengthy list of mishaps.

Not this time. Thomas has paid his dues many times over. Now he gets his reward.

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What we learned from the 2018 Tour de France

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Plenty to discuss: The 2018 edition of the Tour de France is now complete.

Geraint Thomas proved a popular winner of the Tour de France as he rode into Paris in the yellow jersey on Sunday.

Here, we look at five things we learned from the 2018 Tour.

Team Sky’s leadership battle may just be starting

Team Sky spent the entire Tour insisting there was no leadership battle. They were all in for Froome, even if they were hedging their bets by allowing Thomas to race freely. But the torch was clearly passed after the Alps, when it was clear who was the man in form.

There was never any sense of animosity between the two friends as Froome recognised he did not have the legs to challenge for a record-equalling fifth Tour title and instead got behind a man who had helped him deliver the four he already has.

But the real problem may come next season. With Thomas due to sign a new contract to stay with Team Sky and Froome signed up until 2020, who do they send to the race next year? Will Froome get his shot at history? And if so, does the defending champion return to domestique duties?

Or will Sky’s squad be a two-headed monster of the variety that can cause all the questions Sky were so keen to ignore here? “That’s a question for team management,” Froome said. “It’s not really a rider’s place to make those decisions.”

The next Giro-Tour double will have to wait

Nobody has won the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France back-to-back since Marco Pantani in 1998 when, to put it politely, cycling was in a very different place. Froome spied an opportunity to change that this year with an extra week’s rest between the two races as the Tour was pushed back a week to minimise the clash with the World Cup.

But even the greatest stage racer of his generation found it a bridge too far as he lined up for his fourth consecutive Grand Tour. “I still believe it’s possible,” Froome said after confirming third place on the podium. “But it’s not going to be this year for sure.” Nor next year, it seems.

The calendar afforded five-and-a-half weeks between the two races this year, but next it will only be three-and-a-half. Tom Dumoulin, whose achievement in finishing second in both races should not be overlooked, said: “Next year, whoever wants to go for the double challenge, it would be pretty impossible in my eyes.”

Dumoulin emerges as the best of the rest

Team Sky’s utter domination of the Tour continues as they claimed a sixth win in the last seven editions. The race ended with the likes of Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa having failed to put them under any serious pressure, while bad luck befell Richie Porte – as it always seems to – and Vincenzo Nibali.

It was easy before the Tour to dismiss Dumoulin’s odds of challenging given he had ridden the Giro and not even planned to double up, while a route with just 31km of individual time trials did not allow the world champion against the clock to capitalise on his greatest strength. Yet the Dutchman navigated a path to the second step in Paris regardless and, at 27, must now be considered the most serious challenger to Sky’s dominance.

“No-one expected me to do so well,” Dumoulin said, counting himself amongst that number. “We didn’t have an eye on the podium, we were just going for it. We have to look at doing better in the next few years.”

King Sagan

Peter Sagan’s bid to win the green jersey for a sixth consecutive year 12 months ago was ended by his controversial disqualification for the tangle which ended Mark Cavendish’s race.

But the world champion was indomitable again this year, mathematically wrapping up the points classification with almost a week to spare – and finishing with a tally twice that of anyone else.

A heavy crash on Stage 17 put green in peril as he was in danger of either withdrawing or missing the time cut, but the Slovakian survived his “worst ever day on the bike” on Stage 19 to be sure of victory in Paris. Finding someone, anyone, who can beat him to green looks a long way off.

I’m so happy to wear the Maillot Vert on the Champs-Elysées for the sixth time. It’s such a great feeling, especially after the four very difficult days that followed my crash. It was tough but here I am! I’d like to thank all the @borahansgrohe riders, staff and sponsors for their help in making this a reality. Thank you! @boracookingsystems @hansgrohe @iamspecialized @sportful @ride100percent Je to pre mňa obrovská radosť sa už po šiestykrát obliecť do zeleného dresu na Champs-Elysées. Sú to neskutočné pocity a to najmä po štyroch veľmi náročných dňoch po mojom páde. Bolo to ťažké, ale zvládol som to! Chcel by som sa poďakovať všetkým spolujazdcom, celému kolektívu z tímu BORA-hansgrohe a sponzorom za to, že to celé umožnili. Ďakujem všetkým!

A post shared by Peter Sagan (@petosagan) on

Cavendish’s bid to catch Merckx in peril

It is now two years since Mark Cavendish won his 30th Tour de France stage. In 2017, he crashed out on stage four, but this time around he simply could not keep up before missing the time cut in La Rosiere.

A younger generation, led by Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen bossed the sprints in the first week, while the best Cavendish could manage was an eighth place on stage seven.

The 33-year-old has suffered two seasons wrecked by injury and illness, and looked ring-rusty on the roads. But before the Tour even started he admitted he was no longer the Cavendish of old, perhaps not ready to risk it all in the way he once did when the sprints get rougher.

The Manxman needs four stage wins to match Eddy Merckx’s all-time record of 34 in the Tour, a record that is looking further and further away.

Great Britain's Mark Cavendish is pictured during the eleventh stage of the 105th edition of the Tour de France cycling race between Albertville and La Rosiere, French Alps, on July 18, 2018. - Cavendish crossed the finish line on July 18 after the time cut. (Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZ / AFP) / BLACK AND WHITE VERSION (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Mark Cavendish has endured a difficult 2018.

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