Road to Tour sal­va­tion starts

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Le Puy en Ve­lay is the start­ing point of the ‘Via Po­di­en­sis’ pil­grim­age to San­ti­ago de Com­postela in Spain but it will see off the Tour de France pelo­ton on the road to yel­low jer­sey glory. On pa­per, the 165km 16th stage to Ro­mans sur Isere should be one for sprint king Mar­cel Kit­tel to claim a re­mark­able sixth vic­tory this year. But for the over­all con­tenders, in­clud­ing race leader Chris Froome, there are po­ten­tial per­ils.

With less than 30 sec­onds sep­a­rat­ing the top four and an­other three rid­ers within a fur­ther 90 sec­onds, this is the tight­est Tour race in years. From Wed­nes­day, two daunt­ing Alpine moun­tain stages loom but for Ire­land’s Dan Martin, the big­gest dan­gers lurk else­where on this year’s en­thralling Grand Boucle.

“Any­thing can hap­pen in the Tour. If you have a bad day, es­pe­cially with the po­ten­tial for cross­winds (on Tues­day) and on Fri­day, the Tour could be de­cided on the flat, sim­i­lar to Rodez (stage 14) rather than in the moun­tains where ev­ery­body ex­pected it to be de­cided,” said the 30-year-old Quick-Step rider, ly­ing fifth at 1min 12sec.

“You have to be con­cen­trated un­til the fin­ish and so far I’m re­ally proud of the way I’ve rid­den in terms of the fo­cus and con­cen­tra­tion I’ve main­tained since the start.”

With the top rid­ers largely neu­tral­is­ing each other on the tough­est climbs, it has been else­where that they have had to look to try to make small gains. And Ital­ian Fabio Aru, who held the yel­low jer­sey for two days last week be­fore re­lin­quish­ing it back to Froome when he was caught out by the light­ning fast run-in to Rodez on Satur­day, be­lieves the con­tenders are go­ing to have to get cre­ative.

“In my opin­ion, you have to be in­ven­tive on the bike. You can come up with all the pos­si­ble tac­tics but it’s in the race that you find out if you’ve got the legs or not,” said the As­tana leader, sec­ond over­all at 18sec. Fol­low­ing Mon­day’s sec­ond rest day it prom­ises to be a fast start out of the beau­ti­ful, his­toric and UNESCO World Her­itage Site of Le Puy en Ve­lay, known for its Notre Dame de l’An­non­ci­a­tion Cathe­dral, Corneille rock and Notre Dame de France statue of the Vir­gin Mary and baby Je­sus. It’s rel­a­tively short at 165km and pretty lumpy to start with, which should en­cour­age strong break­away rid­ers.

But the sprinter’s teams, es­pe­cially Kit­tel’s Quick-Step, will want to con­trol the break to set up their man for the sprint fin­ish. He’s been al­most un­beat­able in that depart­ment this year and his ri­vals such as An­dre Greipel and Alexan­der Kristoff will need soe di­vine in­spi­ra­tion if they are to steal a march on the Ger­man pow­er­house. —AFP

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