Year of Froome return, Aru soars and Sagan delivers

CHRIS Froome reasserted his authority, a new star was born in Fabio Aru, while Peter Sagan finally came good in an action-packed year in cycling.

Doping took a back seat, not least because of the corruption scandal in football and athletics, particularly Russia, being dragged through the drug-tainted mud.

But for one person, it certainly did not feel like cycling was being relieved. Briton Froome, 30, won his second Tour de France title, demonstrating he has no peers across the three-week stage-race format, a year on from failing to defend his title after fracturing his wrist in a fall that forced him out of the race.

The Grand Boucle was supposed to be all about the “Fantastic Four”, but reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali cracked on the first mountain finish, Alberto Contador wilted little by little as his ambitious attempts to compete a Giro d’Italia-Tour double proved beyond him, and Nairo Quintana timed his last-gasp charge too late.

Froome was in command from the first few stages and never looked under pressure until the last two mountain stages when slight chinks appeared in his armour.

But before then, the most worrying aspect for Froome was the treatment he received from certain quarters of the media as well as some fans.

Accused both of doping and riding a motorised bicycle, he had urine thrown at him, was spat at, saw his chief lieutenant — Australia’s Richie Porte — punched and was insulted at almost every turn. Yet Froome and Sky were back to their all-conquering best after an anomalistic 2014 in which everything seemed to go wrong.

Quintana, who is just 25, will come back stronger next year and with a tweak here and there to his tactics — which this year seemed partly thwarted by his Movistar team appearing more interested in getting veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde onto the podium rather than fighting Froome for overall victory — he will surely prove more dangerous still next July.

But there will also be another obstacle to Froome’s dominance in Italian Aru.

The 25-year-old Astana teammate of Nibali started out running Contador close in May’s Giro — although Astana may even have enjoyed overall victory had they placed their faith in Aru’s chief support Mikel Landa, who to many an outsider appeared the stronger of the two, but being held back to allow his team leader to shine.

Having come second in Italy, Aru then went one better by winning September’s Vuelta a Espana in a field that included Froome, Quintana and Nibali.

But Nibali was kicked out after the second stage for getting a tow from a car, Froome pulled out after breaking his foot in a crash and Quintana seemed too tired after his Tour exploits to really push.

Aru will line up at the Tour next year and many will see him as a strong outside bet.

The Sagan enigma started to make sense after a long dry spell. The talented Slovak won the world championship road race title despite a Tour de France stage drought stretching back two-and-a-half years.

He will now be an even bigger favourite than before to at last land one of the prestigious “Monument” one-day classics.

In that domain, it has been all change as the former greats Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen were nowhere to be seen — primarily due to injury.

Norway’s Alexander Kristoff won the Tour of Flanders and German John Degenkolb reigned supreme at Paris-Roubaix, ushering in a new era in which they may replace the decade-long Cancellara-Boonen rivalry — although Sagan may have something to say about that while the Rio Olympics will likely occupy many a mind.




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