Froome, Team Sky right where they want to be


RO­MANS-SUR-ISERE, FRANCE — Ahead of two gru­elling Alpine stages likely to de­cide the out­come of the 104th Tour de France, Chris Froome and his team­mates have sent a clear mes­sage to their ri­vals with an­other im­pres­sive dis­play of col­lec­tive strength.

Amid heavy cross­winds that played havoc in the fi­nale of Tues­day’s 165-kilo­me­tre Stage 16 be­tween Le Puy-en-Ve­lay to Ro­mansen-Isere, Team Sky rid­ers tried to un­set­tle their op­po­nents by set­ting a fre­netic tempo that split the pack like a jig­saw puz­zle.

Af­ter re­lent­less work from Vasil Kiryienka and Michal Kwiatkowski, only 22 rid­ers in­clud­ing Froome and team­mate Mikel Landa man­aged to stay in the re­duced bunch at the front.

Also among them were Fabio Aru, Ro­main Bardet and Rigob­erto Uran, who avoided the trap. But Dan Martin lost 51 sec­onds af­ter get­ting caught in a split in the fi­nale. He dropped to sev­enth place over­all, 2:03 off the pace.

At one point, it looked like Bardet was go­ing to be left be­hind but he was helped back in the lead­ing group by Oliver Nae­sen. Aus­tralian Michael Matthews won the stage in a sprint to the line.

With the race now in money time, with stages set to de­cide the fi­nal podium, Froome went straight to the point with his ag­gres­sive rac­ing. He ap­pears in great shape and has the best team sur­round­ing him in his bid to win a fourth Tour ti­tle.

“Ev­ery­one knew it was go­ing to split at some point,” said Froome. “For us it was more about just be­ing on the right side of it. Know­ing it was go­ing to kick off on that open sec­tion in the last 20 kilo­me­tres to go, the guys com­mit­ted to that and we saw the gaps open­ing out straight away.”

Froome has an 18-sec­ond over­all lead over Aru, with Ro­main Bardet 23 sec­onds back in third place.

Landa, who has been im­pres­sive since the start of the Tour de­spite ded­i­cat­ing him­self to Froome, moved back to fifth over­all, 1 minute, 17 sec­onds back.

The bat­tle for the yel­low jer­sey will re­sume on Wed­nes­day dur­ing the first of two Alpine stages in high al­ti­tude. It will lead rid­ers to the ski sta­tion of Serre Che­va­lier through a gru­elling 183-km trek fea­tur­ing four climbs, in­clud­ing a nearly 12km as­cent to the Col du Gal­i­bier, one of the Tour’s most fear­some and famed climbs.

Next will be the daunt­ing Stage 18 to the Col d’Izoard, which fea­tures a fi­nal 14.1-kilo­me­tre as­cent to the top of the moun­tain, at an al­ti­tude of 2,360 me­tres.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to the Alps,” Froome said.

Three days af­ter his vic­tory in Rodez, Matthews re­duced the gap with green jer­sey holder Mar­cel Kit­tel to 29 points in the best sprinter’s clas­si­fi­ca­tion with his sec­ond stage win. He made the most of a slightly up­hill sec­tion 500 me­tres from the line and ac­cel­er­ated af­ter Greg Van Aver­maet launched the sprint. Matthews then re­sisted Ed­vald Boas­son Ha­gen’s late surge to pre­vail by a wheel’s length. John De­genkolb com­pleted the podium.


Aus­tralia’s Michael Matthews, left, sprints to win Stage 16 of the Tour de France on Tues­day.

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