De­fend­ing cham­pion Froome looses over­all Tour lead to Aru

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - SA­MUEL PETREQUIN AND JOHN LE­ICES­TER PEYRAGUDES, FRANCE —

Chris Froome cracked dur­ing a gru­elling climb to the fin­ish and lost the over­all lead in the Tour de France cy­cling race to Fabio Aru on Thurs­day after a de­mand­ing stage won by Ro­main Bardet.

Froome’s Sky team­mates had per­fectly con­trolled the race un­til the fi­nal kilo­me­tre lead­ing to the ski sta­tion of Peyragudes, but the three-time cham­pion was dropped in a fi­nal sec­tion that fea­tured slopes with a 20 per cent gra­di­ent.

Bardet won Stage 12 ahead of Rigob­erto Uran and Aru, who seized the race lead from Froome by six sec­onds.

Bardet is third over­all, 25 sec­onds off the pace.

Team Sky had dom­i­nated the stage un­til the fi­nal 350 me­tres, when Aru made his move. Froome was only able to fol­low his Ital­ian ri­val for a few me­tres be­fore he faded, and crossed the line in sev­enth place, 22 sec­onds be­hind Bardet.

Bid­ding to be­come the first French­man to win the Tour since Bernard Hin­ault in 1985, Bardet was the strong­est in the bru­tal in­cline and de­scribed his third stage win on the Tour as “an im­mense joy.”

He said he had vis­ited the ski sta­tion with his par­ents to scout out the fi­nal climb. “I knew it could suit me,” he said. “I was pa­tient. I made the dif­fer­ence on the fi­nal hill. There was not much to do be­fore that with the wind and the Sky train.”

Aru had trailed Froome by 18 sec­onds at the start of the stage.

“It’s one of the most beau­ti­ful things that can hap­pen to you in life, wear­ing the yel­low jersey,” said Aru, who rides for the As­tana team.

“Clearly, it won’t be easy to de­fend it. There are still nine more stages, we’ll do our best.”

The fi­nal of the six as­cents on the menu of the 214.5 kilo­me­tres stage be­tween Pau and the ski sta­tion was too dif­fi­cult for Froome, who had worn the yel­low jersey over the pre­vi­ous seven stages.

He was gri­mac­ing with the ef­fort, his arms glis­ten­ing with sweat, as he wres­tled his bike up the su­per­steep climb that was used as a lo­ca­tion for the 1997 James Bond movie “To­mor­row Never Dies.”

Froome zigzagged his bike across the tar­mac as he tried to cope with a gra­di­ent so steep that it seemed to glue his wheels to the road.

“It was a very, very dif­fi­cult fin­ish,” he said. “I did my ut­most at the end. But I didn’t have the legs to fol­low.”

Rain was fall­ing as the pelo­ton started the stage in Pau, be­fore a break­away of 12 rid­ers gained a lead of more than six min­utes on some fairly flat sec­tions of the course.

Froome’s team­mates rode at the front with Aru’s squad just be­hind, but showed no in­ter­est in re­duc­ing the gap with the break­aways.

Sky stepped up the tempo in the first re­ally dif­fi­cult as­cent, the Col de Menté, where Span­ish great Luis Ocana crashed out in a down­hill sec­tion in 1971 while wear­ing the yel­low jersey.

The twist­ing and pun­ish­ing Port de Bales, a nar­row, 11.7-kilo­me­tre climb at an av­er­age gra­di­ent of 7.7 per cent — rated as ‘be­yond a cat­e­gory’ be­cause of its dif­fi­culty — took a heavy toll on the lead rid­ers. The break­away group split up as Stephen Cum­mings launched a solo of­fen­sive.

Aru’s team­mate Jakob Fuglsang, who broke two bones in a crash dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s stage, strug­gled at the back and dropped out of con­tention after start­ing the day in fifth place over­all.

Cum­mings had a two-minute lead at the top of Port de Bales and went all out in the de­scent. Froome, Aru and Mikel Nieve mis­judged a turn in the down­hill but avoided a crash.

CHRISTOPHE ENA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

France’s Ro­main Bardet rides to vic­tory in the 12th stage of the Tour de France over 214.5 kilo­me­tres with a start in Pau and fin­ish in Peyragudes on Thurs­day.

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