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Gracious in defeat, Froome set to aim again at Tour glory

(AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

By SAMUEL PETREQUIN

AP Sports Writer

PARIS (AP) Sitting alone and unnoticed behind a giant board during the Tour de France winner's news conference, Chris Froome patiently listened to Geraint Thomas's answers.

It was an unfamiliar position for Froome, who for the first time in four years did not occupy the podium's first place at cycling's biggest race on Sunday.

Froome, who failed in his bid to win the Tour for a record-equaling fifth time, ended the race in third place, 2 minutes, 24 seconds behind his team Sky teammate Thomas. The 33-year-old Froome also came short in his attempt to win both the Giro d'Italia and the Tour de France in the same season, but there was no hard feeling.

"After he won the Giro, Chris came here to win the race, that's for sure," Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. "He did not come here to be third on the podium. But when he realized Geraint was the strongest, he did not start sulking at the back of the bus. Not at all. He said: `I will now ride as a teammate and I'll do my best for Geraint and the team because of all the work you did for me over the past years'."

Froome was subjected to abuse by some fans on the roads of France this summer after being cleared of a doping case only days before the start. He said he was repeatedly spat at and that spectators punched him and tried to make him fall off his bike.

He crashed in the opening stage - not because of fans - and lost 51 seconds, and he hit the ground again on the cobbled stage in northern France. Froome's fate was sealed in the Pyrenees, where he was dropped by his rivals during Stage 17 to the Col du Portet, but still managed to snatch a place on the tour podium with an impressive effort in the final time trial.

"I've had quite a few emotions throughout this race, moments of disappointment, crashing, moments of joy when we've won stages and taken the yellow jersey," said Froome, who rode the whole season under the cloud of a possible suspension. "That's bike racing. Like any Grand Tour, this has been a roller coaster with ups and downs."

Froome has been the dominant Grand Tour rider in recent years and started as the race's favorite once again, only to be eclipsed by Thomas.

Despite his failure, Froome still believes a double Tour-Giro remains possible. Only seven riders have done it, and the last to achieve the feat was the late Marco Pantani in 1998. This season, Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin also competed at both races and finished second at both.

"Interesting that you mentioned Tom as well, for him to be second in both Grand Tours, I think that it shows it is possible to do both of the races at a really high level, which only leads me to believe it is possible to do both of them," Froome said.

Froome did not reveal whether he would try again for the double next year. It's more likely he will focus on the Tour solely to match the record of five wins shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

"I really don't believe Chris is on a downhill trend," Brailsford said. "It was just a blip. He went through an extremely difficult time and still won the Giro. He was obviously disappointed here, but he was dignified throughout. There is no doubt he wants to win a fifth Tour and I believe it's possible."

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Associated Press writers Andrew Dampf and Ciaran Fahey contributed.

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Updated July 29, 2018