Zakarin wins as Froome zooms to bigger lead
— Ilnur Zakarin won the first Alpine stage of the Tour de France after using a late attack in the final climb on Wednesday, while race leader Chris Froome increased his lead in the overall standings.
Zakarin was part of a breakaway that formed early in the 184.5-kilometre 17th stage from Bern to the artificial lake of Finhaut-Emosson in Switzerland.
After Rafal Majka and Jarlinson Pantano moved away from the leading pack on the descent of Col de la Forclaz, the Russian cyclist caught them and launched a furious attack on the last climb with 6.5 km left.
It was Zakarin’s first stage win at cycling’s biggest event.
“This result is not a surprise for me, in the first week I also tried to go for it,” said Zakarin, who fractured a collarbone earlier this year at the Giro d’Italia after crashing in a downhill.
Zakarin, who was suspended in 2009 for two years after testing positive for the forbidden anabolic methandienone, finished 55 seconds ahead of Pantano. Majka was third, 1:26 back.
Riding several minutes behind the breakaway riders, Richie Porte attacked from the yellow jersey group around two kilometres from the finish before Froome accelerated. Nairo Quintana was the only one able to follow the defending champion’s frenetic pace, but the Colombian climber cracked after a few hundred metres.
Froome and Porte — who rode in support of Froome at Team Sky before he joined BMC this season — crossed the finish line together.
Froome, the 2013 and 2015 champion at the Tour, now leads Bauke Mollema by 2:27 overall. Adam Yates is third, 2:53 off the pace. Quintana sits in fourth place, 3:27 behind his British rival.
“It was very difficult today because of the heat,” Froome said. “But my team was incredible, they did an amazing job and I was able to stay with the best.”
The stage started in Bern following the second and final rest day and featured two major climbs in the final 30 km: Col de la Forclaz, a 13-km climb with an average gradient of 7.9 per cent, and the brutal beyond-category 10.4-km ascent to the finish line.
The day began with an early crash involving Quintana’s teammate Gorka Izaguirre, who was forced to abandon with a suspected fractured collarbone.
After several breakaway attempts, a group of 14 riders — including world champion Peter Sagan — formed at the front of the race. Froome’s teammates did not chase and the leading pack built a 13-minute lead.
The scenic route near Mont Blanc took the peloton up and down serpentine roads between neatly arranged vineyards with snowcapped mountains in the distance. Once the pack reached the mountains, Sagan got dropped at the bottom of Col de la Forclaz.
The race crosses back into France for Stage 18 on Thursday, a 17-km individual time trial from Sallanches to Megeve.
Richie Porte and Chris Froome head to the finish line of the 184.5km Stage 17 from Berne to Finhaut-Emosson Wednesday.