Now for the Tour moun­tains

Froome con­fi­dent head­ing to Pyre­nees with Van Garderen just be­hind

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS/CLASSIFIEDS - BY JEROME PUGMIRE AP Sports Writer Sa­muel Pe­tre­quin con­trib­uted to this re­port. PLUM­ELEC, FRANCE

Race leader Chris Froome heads to the first moun­tain stages of the Tour de France in con­fi­dent mood — and with an un­ex­pected main ri­val.

The Bri­tish rider, seek­ing his sec­ond Tour win af­ter his dom­i­nant vic­tory in 2013, safely kept the yel­low jersey af­ter his Team SKY fin­ished one sec­ond be­hind Amer­i­can rider Te­jay Van Garderen’s BMC in Sun­day’s team time trial, the ninth stage of a crash-marred race. putting him ahead of Nairo Quin­tana of Colom­bia, the 2013 Tour run­ner-up and the Giro d’Italia win­ner in 2014, as well as twotime Tour win­ner Al­berto Con­ta­dor of Spain and de­fend­ing Tour cham­pion Vin­cenzo Nibali of Italy.

The 26-year-old Van Garderen has never fin­ished higher than fifth at the Tour, but is so far rid­ing like a con­tender.

“Those guys have that tag of ‘Fab Four’ which is get­ting a bit ir­ri­tat­ing,’’ Van Garderen said. “All those guys in the top four have won Grand Tours ... It doesn’t mean I’m in­tim­i­dated by them ... I’m not afraid to beat them.’’

The most dis­ap­point­ing of the ‘Fab Four’ has so far been Nibali, who cracked in a short climb at the end of Satur­day’s eighth stage and lost more time in Sun­day’s TTT when his As­tana team fin­ished fifth, be­hind Con­ta­dor’s Tinkoff-Saxo and Quin­tana’s Mo­vis­tar.

“I thought (Nibali) was go­ing to be the one guy from the main con­tenders who would gain time in this first phase of the race,’’ the 30-year-old Froome said. “I am sur­prised.’’

Con­ta­dor, who en­tered the Tour on the back of his sec­ond Giro d’Italia win and sev­enth Grand Tour ti­tle, is in fifth place — 1 minute, 3 sec­onds be­hind Froome — while Quin­tana is 1:59 be­hind in ninth and Nibali sits 2:22 be­hind in 13th spot.

“It’s one thing not to lose any time to your ri­vals but it’s another to gain time on them,’’ Froome said. “The pres­sure’s cer­tainly not on my shoul­ders.’’

Fol­low­ing Mon­day’s rest day, Tues­day’s 10th stage snakes up the Pyre­nees moun­tains.

There is only one sig­nif­i­cant climb, right at the end. But it is

a no­table one — 15.3 kilo­me­tres (9.5 miles) up La Pier­reSaint-Martin, a moun­tain re­sort host­ing a stage for the first time. The as­cent is classed as Hors Cat­e­gorie (Be­yond Clas­si­fi­ca­tion) — the rat­ing given to the tough­est climbs.

Wed­nes­day’s 11th stage fea­tures a climb up the Cat­e­gory 1 Col d’Aspin and then an HC trek up Col du Tour­malet, a famed Tour climb.

A few riders might crack on Thurs­day’s 12th stage: fea­tur­ing two Cat. 1 climbs and an HC up Plateau de Beille to top things off.

Froome has iden­ti­fied Van Garderen, sec­ond be­hind him at last month’s Cri­terium du Dauphine race, as his main Tour ri­val.

“(The Pyre­nees) will be the test who is fit enough to win the Tour and the Alps will (show) who has enough stamina to get to the end,’’ Van Garderen said. “With the way I was climb­ing at the Dauphine, com­pared to Froome, I think I’m pretty close.’’

Be­fore Sun­day’s 9th stage, Van Garderen was 13 sec­onds be­hind Froome in third place, mean­ing his BMC team — world cham­pi­ons in the dis­ci­pline — needed to win the TTT by 14 sec­onds for the Amer­i­can rider to take the yel­low jersey.

The 22 teams started the TTT within five min­utes of each other over a 28-kilo­me­tre (17.4-mile) trek that ended with a short and sharp hill of 1.7 kilo­me­tres (1.1 miles). Teams have to get five riders over the line with the over­all time cred­ited to the fifth rider to fin­ish.

BMC’s team fea­tured four riders from the team that won last year’s worlds: Van Garderen, Rohan Dennis, Daniel Oss and Manuel Quinzi­ato. The Aus­tralian rider Dennis won the Tour’s open­ing in­di­vid­ual time trial in a record av­er­age speed.

AP PHOTO

Bri­tain’s Christo­pher Froome ad­justs the over­all leader’s yel­low jersey on the podium of the ninth stage of the Tour de France cy­cling race, a team time-trial over 28 kilo­me­ters (17.4 miles) with start in Vannes and fin­ish in Plum­elec, France, Sun­day.

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