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Froome on brink of fourth Tour de France crown

Chris Froome all but secured a fourth Tour de France title by finishing third in Saturday's 20th stage time-trial in Marseille as Maciej Bodnar took the stage victory.

Froome on brink of fourth Tour de France crown
Great Britain's Christopher Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, rides past the Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica (L) on Saturday. PHOTO: JEFF PACHOUD / AFP
Rigoberto Uran moved into second overall at 54 seconds, set to be the tightest winning margin of Froome's four Tour successes, while Romain Bardet held on for third by just one second ahead of Mikel Landa.
 
In what has been the closest Tour battle in years, the top three riders started the day separated by less than 30 seconds, building hope for a grandstand finale in the steamy southern port city ahead of Sunday's procession into Paris.
 
But any such romantic notions of Frenchman Bardet overturning his 23sec deficit to Froome had disappeared long before the end of Saturday's 22.5km race against the clock, which began and ended in Marseille's iconic Velodrome football stadium.
 
Bardet started the day second overall but only narrowly escaped the double humiliation of being pushed off the podium by Landa and overtaken by a charging Froome, who started his time-trial two minutes after the Frenchman.
 
Froome reached the first time check after 10.2km in second place, two seconds behind team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski, with Bodnar third at 6sec.
 
By then it was already clear there would be no grandstand finish as Uran was 23sec down on Froome having begun with a 29sec deficit, while Bardet had given up 44sec to the British leader.
 
By the second time check, Colombian Uran was starting to gain back a bit of time and looked certain to take second overall.
 
But Bardet was in crisis, already 1min 17sec off Kwiatkowski, who still had the best time at the second check, although only fractions of a second ahead of Spanish veteran Alberto Contador, after 15.6km and the climb up to the Notre Dame de la Garde basilica, with Froome fourth at 3sec.
 
Spaniard Landa, who had started the day 1:13 behind Bardet, was now starting to threaten the Frenchman's podium hopes.
 
At the finish, Uran almost came a cropper, hitting the side boardings on a tight bend in a technical run in to the Velodrome.
 
It cost him a few seconds but disaster was averted as he stayed upright to finish 31 seconds behind four-time Polish time-trial champion Bodnar, whose strong final section took him a second ahead of Kwiatkowski, the 2014 world road race champion.
 
Landa had finished 51sec back and as Bardet came into the stadium, fans were counting down the seconds to see if he would hang on to third place, while the looming yellow-clad figure of Froome lurked in his rear-view mirrors.
 
Bardet finished 2:02 behind Bodnar to hold onto third by a single second while Froome crossed the line moments later, to claim third place on the stage and secure a fourth Tour title.

SPORT

Inaugural Women’s Tour de France to start at Eiffel Tower

The route for the inaugural women's Tour de France was unveiled on Thursday with eight stages, embarking from the Eiffel Tower on July 24th next year.

French cyclist Marion Rousse delivers a speech next to Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme during the presentation of the first edition of the Women's Tour de France cycling race.
French cyclist Marion Rousse delivers a speech next to Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme during the presentation of the first edition of the Women's Tour de France cycling race. Photo: Anne-Christine POUJOULAT / AFP.

The first complete edition of the women’s version of cycling’s iconic race starts on the day the 109th edition of the men’s Tour ends.

After a route that winds through northern France, the race culminates in the Planche des Belles Filles climb in the Vosges mountains.

Danish cyclist Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig said she was over the moon to be taking part.

“I want it to be July now so we can get stared,” she said actually jumping up and down.

“The Tour de France is a reference and when you say you are a cyclist people ask about that. Now I can say I race the Tour de France,” she said after the presentation.

MAP: Details of 2022 Tour de France (and Denmark) revealed

Race director Marion Rousse, a former French cycling champion and now a TV commentator, told AFP it would be a varied course that would maintain suspense over the eight days.

“It is coherent in a sporting sense, and we wanted to start from Paris,” she said of the 1,029km run.

“With only eight stages we couldn’t go down to the Alps or the Pyrenees, the transfers would be too long.

“The stages obviously are shorter for the women than for the men’s races. The men can go 225 kilometres. For the women the longest race on our roster is 175km and we even needed special dispensation for that,” she said. “But it’s a course I love.”

Christian Prudhomme, the president of the Tour de France organisers, was equally enthusiastic.

“The fact it sets off from Paris the day the men’s race ends gives the new race a boost because it sets the media up to follow it more easily.

“It also means that with the Tour de France starting on July 1st and the women’s race ending on the 31st, there will be cycling on television every day of July.”

The men’s race is broadcast in around 190 countries.

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