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FROOME WITH A PHEW; TOUR DE FRANCE Relief as Brit sees off late challenge; Chris beats hate mob on road to more glory.

Byline: from Mike Walters on Alpe d'Huez

HE was showered with urine, spat on and subjected to baseless, nudge-nudge insinuations about doping.

His team-mates were punched and rode through waves of verbal abuse belonging to the dark ages of football hooliganism, and cyber thieves hacked his power data.

But when Chris Froome rolls up the Champs Elysees this evening as a two-time Tour de France champion - and only outrageous misfortune will deny him now - he will not just become the greatest road cyclist in Britain's generation of blazing saddles.

Special

Va Va Froome will strike a blow for decency, dignity and class in the face of vile provocation.

"It's unreal - we've been up against everything in this year's Tour," said Britain's man in the yellow jersey. "It's going to make it that much more special coming away with a victory."

The original Saint Christopher was patron saint of travellers. When Froome is draped in the fabled maillot jaune, for the second time in three years, it will be time to canonise another one.

As Froome flogged himself up the 21 hairpin bends on the zig-zag slopes of Alpe d'Huez, he took the chequered flag 1min 12sec ahead of nearest challenger Nairo Quintana in the general classification. The little Colombian more than halved Saint Christopher's overnight lead of 2min 38sec, and we had our stopwatches ready in case of a photo finish.

But Va Va Froome dug deeper than a mineshaft to bring home the most famous yellow jersey in sport since Nick Faldo won The Open at Muirfield in a similar sweater 28 years ago.

It is hard to recall another British champion in any sport who has had to endure the nauseating hostility levelled at Froome over the past three weeks.

So let's spell it out for our friends on the Continent so there are no misunderstandings, no grey areas.

The behaviour towards Team Sky is, in essence, racism - or at the very least, it's an anti-British agenda at work. A British winner, riding for a British team, including five Brits.

None is a convicted doper, yet they have been singled out for this filth.

Sir David Brailsford, the knight of the realm who runs Team Sky on a ticket of zero-tolerance towards drug cheats, would have much more to lose than his PS300,000 motorhome if the clean team was ever unmasked as a latrine team.

And yet the nonsense continued on the packed slopes of Alpe d'Huez as Froome looked to clinch the deal on one of Le Tour's signature climbs.

Where Quintana was cheered up those unforgiving gradients, Froome was booed. And there were unconfirmed reports that he was spat on again as vast crowds lined the route.

But Va Va Froome had the last laugh. He will take the last tango in Paris wearing that yellow jersey, and his enduring memory will be the sweet taste of champagne, not the foul stench of urine.

Exhausted but elated, he said: "I can't quite come to terms with it yet - there were so many emotions going through my mind on the last climb.

"There were times when I thought, 'Hold on, I could be in danger here'. I was on my limits there.

"Everything goes through your head - the sacrifices, the training camps, being away from my wife and family. I was hurting out there and I had to find something else to keep pushing right to the end."

France's Thibaut Pinot won the stage, but who cares? Despite the objectionable conduct of a minority, don't get the wrong idea about the Tour de France.

In fine weather, it remains the most spectacular rolling maul of human endurance on the sporting calendar, bar none. Don't go boycotting croissants and baguettes just because a handful of big-climb Charlies can't handle their petits pois.

"It was a bit close in the end, but after everything he's endured, Chris has shown his real mettle," said Team Sky principal Brailsford.

Composed

"Chris is the most polite, nice guy off the bike, but he's also the most unbelievable competitor and resilient character when he climbs into the saddle.

"He's so composed with the way he puts up with the abuse he gets. A true champion. Britain doesn't have many champions like this fella."

Mark Cavendish will be racing for his future today, with his Etixx- QuickStep contract due to expire later this year. The Manx missile has only been beaten once since 2008 - two years ago - in the traditional bunch sprint up the Champs Elysees.

But the 102nd Tour has not been a happy one for sprint king Cav, 30, with only one stage win in Fougeres after a near miss in Amiens.

The vital stages that took him to a famous winSTAGE 3 - Monday July 6 Froome discovered the impossible, a steep hill in Belgium, and his break up the Mur de Huy to finish second caught his rivals on the hop.

STAGE 9 - Sunday July 12 In the team time trial, where Sky were expected to lose ground, Froome anchored a superb, disciplined effort only one second outside stage winners BMC.STAGE 10 - Tuesday July 14 Just as he took Bastille Day by storm on Mount Ventoux in 2013, Froome stretched his lead from seconds to minutes with a brilliant solo win at La Pierre Saint-Martin ski station.STAGE 14 - Saturday July 18 A hooligan spectator threw a cup of urine over Froome, but instead of turning round to lamp the culprit, his professionalism preserved the yellow jersey.

STAGE 19 - Friday July 24Despite nearest rival Nairo Quintana clawing back 30 seconds of Froome's three-minute advantage on La Toussuire, the leader's refusal to panic was exemplary.

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V FOR VICTORY Froome salutes in triumph after crossing the line (left)
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Jul 26, 2015
Words:959
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