Chris Froome won the longest stage of the Tour de France’s centenary edition after beating his rivals on a climb to the top of Mont Ventoux to extend his lead to more than four minutes.
Team Sky’s Froome was administered oxygen for about five minutes at the 1,912-meter (6,273-foot) finish yesterday after outpacing Nairo Quintana of Movistar at the end of the 151-mile (243-kilometer) stage. Euskaltel’s Mikel Nieve was third.
Froome, a Kenya-born Briton, increased his advantage to 4 minutes, 14 seconds over Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands through 15 of 21 stages. Spain’s two-time champion Alberto Contador is 11 seconds further back in third
“It was my goal to take some time in the classification, but I didn’t think I’d win the stage,” Froome, 28, said in a televised interview. “This is the biggest victory of my life -- this is a historic mountain.”
Mont Ventoux, known as the “Giant of Provence,” is one of the Tour de France’s most storied climbs. The road to an isolated weather station passes a rocky landscape with no vegetation. British rider Tom Simpson died on the ascent in 1967 and Eddy Merckx of Belgium was administered oxygen after winning a 1970 stage there.
Froome was given extra oxygen via a mask before the podium ceremony following a ride of almost six hours.
“I was feeling quite faint and short of breath,” Froome told reporters. “I hope that’s quite normal given it was a full-gas effort.”
‘All My Strength’
Quintana, a 23-year-old Colombian, said he had felt unwell at one point, though hadn’t needed oxygen.
“I had to use all my strength,” Quintana said.
Crowds thronged the route on Bastille Day, a national holiday in France, in 32 degrees Centigrade (90 degrees Fahrenheit) heat. France’s Sylvain Chavanel attacked near the foot of Mont Ventoux before being caught by Quintana after five miles of the climb. None of the host nation’s riders have managed a stage win at this edition.
Australia’s Richie Porte managed to lead Froome up most of the 13-mile ascent of Mont Ventoux after their five other Team Sky teammates wilted.
Froome accelerated away from a small group of riders including Contador with 4.5 miles left, and then caught Quintana. Froome said he encouraged the Colombian as they rode at the front of the field.
“I was trying to motivate him, saying, ‘Come on, man,’” Froome said. “The last two kilometers I don’t think I even attacked, he just couldn’t hold the wheel anymore.”
Froome raised his hand to celebrate the win before being taken into a cabin to recuperate.
Team Saxo-Tinkoff’s Contador finished 1 minute, 40 seconds behind Froome in sixth place and Mollema of Belkin was six seconds further back in eighth.
Cadel Evans, the 2011 champion, was almost 9 minutes behind in 31st place. Andy Schleck, who inherited the 2010 title when Contador failed a doping test, veered to the side of the road as he struggled his way up Mont Ventoux and finished more than 10 minutes off the pace.
Greg LeMond, a three-time winner from the U.S., said Froome is almost assured of winning the race because of his form.
“It’s over,” LeMond told France Television on Mont Ventoux. “You can always have a bad day, but once you’re good, you’re good.”
Froome said there are still some of the hardest stages to come. Today is the final rest day before the 2,116 mile-Tour heads toward the Alps. The race ends July 21 in Paris.