Rigoberto Urán (Cannondale-Drapac) almost crashed as he entered the Marseille velodrome stadium but still managed to gain enough time on Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) to ensure he will finish second when the Tour de France ends in Paris on Sunday.
A Colombian rider has yet to win the Tour de France but Urán now joins compatriot Nairo Quintana as having achieved the second step of the Tour podium after the Movistar rider finished second in 2013 and 2015. Urán believed he had a chance of victory right to the end of his time trial. He had fought for every second for three weeks and did so on stage 20 out on the roads of Marseille.
Urán set a time of 28:46 for the 22.5km course, an impressive eighth fastest time. He was 25 seconds slower than Chris Froome (Team Sky) and so will ride into Paris 54 seconds down on the Briton. Bardet lost a massive 1:57 and so slipped to third overall, at 2:20. Mikel Landa (Team Sky) missed out on taking Bardet's podium place by a single second after one of the closest fights for the podium in recent years.
Urán never takes interview with the Colombia media pack too seriously, and immediately after he finished his time trial, he seemed genuinely happy to be on the Tour de France podium after twice finishing second in the Giro d'Italia.
"Finishing second to Froome at less than minute seems pretty good to me. It's a quality final podium in Paris and so this is the greatest success of my career. This result is dedicated it my family, friends, my team and everyone who has supported me, during the last three weeks," he said as the questions came thick and fast from different Colombian radio and television channels, with microphones pushed close to Urán's mouth.
"It's a very important second place. And on top of that it was very tight, coming down to the last time trial. Everything was up for grabs; the Tour was open right up until the final time trial. Of course we knew it would be complicated with the rival we were up against. We knew it would be difficult to win it but not impossible, so we gave it everything. It's been a great Tour."
"My goal at he start of the Tour de France was to finish in the top five and win a stage. I don't like to talk up my chances because cycling is a sport where the legs do the talking and you have to wait until the end. But we knew I was coming into the Tour in good shape. But you cannot really take stock until the end because you never know what might happen – look at Kittel who had practically won the green jersey."
Urán perhaps saw his Tour de France flash in front of his eyes when he almost crashed into the roadside barriers coming not the Marseille velodrome stadium. He could have lost his podium place and even his chance to finish the Tour. Fortunately he kept his bike up and kept his nerve.
"At that moment I was risking a lot but sometimes you have to do everything you can. Sometimes you crash, but fortunately I came out of it well and didn't hit the deck," he said.
Urán and Cannondale-Drapac: an unusual but successful combination
Urán and the Cannondale-Drapac team are perhaps an unusual combination but one that clearly worked well at the Tour de France. The vibe of the chilled out but determined US team seems to fit with Urán's happy-go-lucky approach.
Team manager Jonathan Vaughters and senior directeur sportif Charly Wegelius put their Tour de France hopes in Urán. He only raced 31 days before the Tour, preferring to train in Colombia and ride the four-day Route du Sud but the team trusted him to arrive in Dusseldorf on form and ready to target the overall classification.
"The team gave me the opportunity to focus solely on the Tour. The preparation was the same, the only thing that changed a bit was the races, the calendar," Urán explained.
My level has always been the same during the last two seasons. The only thing is that I had some problems with my health in 2016 but I was still seventh in the Giro d'Italia. This year, everything has been different. This year I've been pretty good and in the mountains I've always been up there with the top guys."
Urán is 31 in January and so still has several years to attempt to win the Tour de France. Cannondale-Drapac is hoping to keep him on board and return to the Tour de France together. However Urán has several other offers and so could return to France in different colours in 2018.
Can he beat Froome and become the first Colombian to win the Tour de France? Urán preferred not to make any predictions about that.
"I have no idea," he said.
"This year, it has to be said that Froome had a very, very strong team. They made a huge difference in the important stages. He's won four Tours, he has a very big palmares. The most important thing this year was the time I lost in the time trial on the opening day, because after that there wasn't a lot of difference. That gives me hope."
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