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.