VAISON-LA-ROMAINE, France – With a burst of power on the steep final slopes of imposing Mont Ventoux, Chris Froome of Sky Procycling won the 15th stage of the Tour de France on Sunday, re-establishing the dominance that had been predicted for the Briton before the event began — and that had come into some question mere days ago.
The race leader, Froome sprinted away from the 23-year-old climbing sensation from Colombia, Nairo Quintana of Movistar, and also gained more than a minute and a half on his two closest rivals for the overall title, Dutch rider Bauke Mollema (who is 4:14 behind) of Belkin and Spaniard Alberto Contador (4:25 off the lead) of Team Saxo-Tinkoff.
Mouth agape from the effort, the 28-year-old Froome thrust his right arm upward in victory as he became the first rider since Eddy Merckx in 1970 to win a Mont Ventoux stage while also wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey.
“It was incredible today, incredible. This is the biggest victory of my career,” Froome said. “I didn’t imagine this. This climb is so historical. It means so much to this race, especially being the 100th edition. I really can’t believe this.”
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The Internet almost immediately lighted up with speculation among cycling watchdogs that Froome’s stunning final acceleration suggested he might have used performance-enhancing drugs. Froome has rejected such suggestions before, and did so again Sunday.
Told after the race some people were comparing him with Lance Armstrong, the American rider whose seven Tour titles were stripped from him after a doping investigation, an unperturbed Froome smiled and said: “I’m only going to take that as a compliment.”
Froome has said he understands, given the doping marred-history of his sport, why there have been questions about his performances and says he is happy to answer.
Sky Procycling boss Dave Brailsford said he expects renewed scrutiny after Froome’s Ventoux exploit.
Brailsford said, “We have a great performance and 10 minutes later, you know, I jump for joy like this, and then 10 minutes later I guarantee you I’ll be answering all these questions and allegations of doping for the next few days.”
Froome used oxygen at the summit, 6,722 feet up, to recover. He coughed violently at the top.