STAGE IS SET FOR FROOME

TOUR DE FRANCE

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - IAN AUSTEN

De­fend­ing champ goes up­hill and fur­ther ahead after time trial.

MEGEVE, FRANCE — With a sin­gle fist pump after he crossed the fin­ish line Thurs­day in this fash­ion­able ski re­sort town, Chris Froome cel­e­brated his con­vinc­ing win of the fi­nal time trial in the Tour de France cy­cling race and the un­of­fi­cial be­gin­ning of the com­pe­ti­tion to join him on the podium.

In win­ning the stage, Froome, the Bri­tish leader of Team Sky, dra­mat­i­cally af­firmed his hold on the yel­low jersey of the race leader and all but clinched the tro­phy: Though the usual fine print about ill­ness, me­chan­i­cal catas­tro­phe and crashes al­ways ap­plies, he will most likely be de­clared the win­ner of the Tour for a third time in Paris on Sun­day.

At just 17 kilo­me­tres, the stage ranked among the short­est since the Sec­ond World War. But the first 14.5 kilo­me­tres of the stage, this Tour’s sec­ond in­di­vid­ual race against the clock, climbed up a moun­tain in two sec­tions. The open­ing seg­ment, the Côte de Do­mancy, had an av­er­age grade of 9.4 per cent, with some por­tions as high as 15 per cent

Froome fin­ished off the job in 30 min­utes and 43 sec­onds, cap­tur­ing his sec­ond stage win of this Tour. His first, un­usu­ally, came from a down­hill solo break­away.

Tom Du­moulin, a Dutch rider with the Gi­ant-Alpecin team fin­ished 21 sec­onds be­hind Froome for sec­ond place on the day.

Du­moulin won the first time trial, which, com­pared with Thurs­day’s trial, was flat. But at 44th over­all and more than an hour and half be­hind Froome, he is not a con­tender for the over­all ti­tle.

None of the rid­ers who were ex­pected to chal­lenge Froome this year were a threat to him Thurs­day. Last year, Nairo Quin­tana, a Colom­bian on Team Mo­vis­tar, came close to snatch­ing the lead from Froome on an Alpine stage on the sec­ondto-last day. On Thurs­day, how­ever, Quin­tana was a dis­tant 1:10 be­hind Froome, 10th in the stage. As he crossed un­der the fin­ish line ban­ner dis­play­ing his time, the dis­ap­point­ment on his face was ap­par­ent. Quin­tana emerged from the day fourth over­all, 4:37 be­hind Froome. He will most likely fo­cus in the re­main­ing few days on clos­ing the gap to the podium rather than try­ing to over­take Froome.

The names on the first three po­si­tions in the over­all rank­ing re­mained as they were be­fore the time trial. But Froome length­ened his lead over his com­pe­ti­tion. Sec­ond place Bauke Mollema fell to 3:52 be­hind Froome, and Adam Yates, another Bri­ton who is third, dropped to 4:16 be­hind. While two dif­fi­cult days in the Alps re­main be­fore the largely cer­e­mo­nial fin­ish in Paris, it would be an ex­cep­tional event if ei­ther man closed those gaps, par­tic­u­larly given their time trial re­sults.

“I’ve got a fan­tas­tic ad­van­tage right now,” Froome said, adding that the next two days would in­volve “not tak­ing risks and staying out of trou­ble.”

PETER DEJONG, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Fans cheer as Bri­tain’s Chris Froome, wear­ing the over­all leader’s yel­low jersey, passes dur­ing the 18th stage of the Tour de France cy­cling race Thurs­day.

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