By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) - Chris Froome dug deep into his physical and mental reserves to claim his second Tour de France title on Sunday after three punishing weeks on, and possibly even more so, off the bike.
The 30-year-old Briton, who resisted Nairo Quintana's late charge in the Alps to repeat his 2013 triumph, endured a torrid race during which he was jeered, spat at and had urine thrown at him due to ongoing suspicions of doping.
Froome is not the first yellow jersey holder to be roughed up by the crowd -- Belgian great Eddy Merckx and French champion Jacques Anquetil were in their time -- but he faced a high level of scrutiny in a sport still reeling from the Lance Armstrong drugs scandal.
"Chris has shown his real mettle, the way he puts up with the abuse is unbelievable," Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford said.
"It’s unreal, we’ve been up against everything in this year’s Tour," said Froome, the first Briton to win the Tour twice.
A polite, softly-spoken character, Froome showed on the bike he could dig deep as he hung on for dear life during the penultimate stage to the iconic Alpe d'Huez in which Quintana sliced more than half of deficit on Saturday.
It was not enough to derail Froome as the Briton, giving Sky their third Tour title in four years, won the race by one minute 12 seconds, with Quintana's Movistar team mate Alejandro Valverde a distant third, 5:25 off the pace.
Froome, who also secured the polka dot jersey for the mountain classification, was already in prime position after the opening block of racing in which he was expected to struggle.
He was on the right side of a bunch split in the high winds of the Netherlands and briefly attacked on the cobblestones of northern France.
He stayed safe until the first mountain stage, which he won thanks to a jaw-dropping attack on the ascent to La Pierre St Martin.
"There was only one stage where I really made my mark and that was La Pierre St Martin and the rest of the stages were about being as consistent as possible and trying to just chip away," Froome said.
The performance sparked doping suspicions and urine was thrown at Froome, who was also spat at by spectators.
Organisers blamed the incident on the media, urging them to be more responsible while Team Sky published Froome's power data on the climb in order to put the doping suspicions to bed.
Froome, however, soldiered on.
With defending champion Vincenzo Nibali having dropped out of contention before finishing a decent fourth, and Alberto Contador, fifth in Paris, looking far below his best after a tough Giro d'Italia, Froome only had Quintana to control as American Tejay van Garderen abandoned on the first Alpine stage.
But Quintana, who had lost a big chunk of time in the first week, left it too late, only taking his chances in the last two mountain stages.
Froome said he felt relieved on Saturday, possibly because he will not have to put up with the abuse and suspicions until the next Tour de France, which he will surely start as favorite as he does not show give any signs of weakening.
"I love the sacrifices, the hard work. That's what gets me out of bed," he said.
"I love pushing my body to the limit," added the lanky Briton, who has been suffering from a cold since the second rest day.
His team mate and lieutenant Richie Porte paid tribute to Froome's courage.
"Obviously the last three weeks have really taken a toll on him and truth be known I don't think he's been that healthy either," Porte said.
"It's a testament to how hard he is mentally."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)