'Running Man' Chris Froome a rare highlight of a stale Tour de France
Englishman’s third win in four years is a bright spot in an otherwise dull classic
It’s been far from a classic Tour de France but the 2016 edition did provide one of the most memorable moments in the race’s history.
Just like the 1978 strike, the tears of Richard Virenque when kicked out of the 1998 Tour over the Festina affair, or Lance Armstrong going off road on a dangerous mountain descent yet remaining upright, this year’s race provided an image that will endure for years.
It was Chris Froome, the reigning champion and race leader, who would go on to win a third title, clad from head to toe in yellow and on foot, sensationally running to the finish line of the race’s most iconic mountain, Mont Ventoux.
The race won’t live long in memories, but that moment will, as Froome demonstrated the single-minded determination that would guide him again to victory.
Live television pictures missed the crash with a motorcycle in which Froome’s bike was broken, and cut from one shot to that of the yellow jersey running, alone through an imposing tunnel of boisterous fans, no bike to be seen anywhere and with pandemonium all around.
It’s the kind of incident that could have made this one of the most spectacular Tours of all time, along with the collapsing inflatable arch that knocked young Briton Adam Yates off his bike the day before Froome’s own troubles.
Such photo-friendly moments disguised to a certain extent the lack of action on the roads, at least when in came to the important prizes.
Froome was more dominant than in his previous two Tour successes.
Ever since taking time from his rivals on an audacious downhill attack on stage eight, before riding the windy 11th stage better than the rest to further extend his advantage, Froome and his Team Sky were in control.
Superior in descent and on the flat, Froome then crushed all the rest on the 13th stage time-trial and took his gap out to minutes rather than seconds.
At no time, a least whilst seated on his bike, did he ever look flustered or in trouble.
He had initially lost time and lost his lead due to the Ventoux incident, but the race jury decided external factors had caused an unfair change to the standings and he was reinstated as leader.
With Nairo Quintana out of sorts, claiming an allergy was the reason, and Alberto Contador quitting the race during the ninth stage after illness weakened him having also been diminished by crashes on the first two days, Froome had no true rivals.
It left young Briton Yates and the unheralded Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands as Froome’s closest two competitors for the largest part of he race, and neither had arrived at the Tour with title ambitions.
Froome himself was frequently miffed, questioning from one stage to another why his rivals hadn’t attacked him.
They never did, but instead the race for minor placings was fierce, intense, tight and fluid.
Frenchman Roman Bardet took second ahead of a strangely satisfied Quintana but fifth-placed Australian Richie Porte was only one minute, 12 seconds off Bardet, and he had lost 1:45 due to a late puncture on the second stage.
The battles for the minor jerseys were no less predictable than the yellow one.
World champion Peter Sagan won a fifth straight green jersey, showing he need not be able to beat pure sprinters in a dash to the line to dominate the jersey designed for them.
Mark Cavendish demonstrated a remarkable return to form, winning four stages and taking his total to 30, surpassing the 27 of Bernard Hinault and leaving him second only to Belgian great Eddy Merckx, the five-time Tour winner with 34 stages.
Once Cavendish left the race to focus on the Olympics, Sagan, who would also be named most combative rider of the Tour, had no competition.
He finished with three stage victories while keeping the cycling world entertained with his video parodies of cult classic films, such as Grease, Rocky, Forest Gump and Pulp Fiction.
For the second time in three years, Poland’s Rafal Majka won the polkadot king of the mountains jersey, but the only man to try to challenge him was Thomas De Gendt, who’s not even a climber.
Yates won the white young rider’s jersey but even then, on the last stage at which time gaps could be made, he preferred to protect his two minute white jersey advantage over South African Louis Meintjes rather than try to make up the 21 seconds that separated him from a podium finish.
It rather summed up this year’s Tour.