Froome in con­trol while Bar­guil takes stage win

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

BRI­AN­CON: Tour de France leader Chris Froome re­mained rock­solid on a thrilling Col d’Izoard climb yes­ter­day and now looks un­stop­pable in his bid for a fourth ti­tle in Paris.

Fans wedged onto the 2 360m sun-bleached sum­mit roared home War­ren Bar­guil as the French­man broke clear to win the iconic stage, but it was not the story most of the home fans wanted.

They had ar­rived hop­ing to see Ro­main Bardet make a de­ci­sive at­tack on the seem­ingly un­flap­pable Froome and snatch the yel­low jer­sey on the last day in the Alps.

The AG2R La Mon­di­ale rider did beat Team Sky’s Froome over the line at the end of the 179km stage which cul­mi­nated in a bru­tal 14km as­cent of the iconic Izoard – host­ing a sum­mit fin­ish for the first time in Tour his­tory.

But his third place, be­hind Sun­web’s Bar­guil and Colom­bian Dar­win Ata­puma, only al­lowed him to shave four sec­onds off Froome’s lead as the Bri­tish rider fin­ished just be­hind him in fourth place with Rigob­erto Uran fifth.

One-time race leader Fabio Aru’s hopes dis­in­te­grated as he suf­fered in the stun­ning Alpine scenery and slipped from fourth to fifth in the over­all leader­board be­hind Froome’s team mate Mikel Landa, who looks ca­pa­ble of a podium fin­ish in Paris.

“I gave it my all,” said Bardet, who looks like fin­ish­ing sec­ond be­hind Froome as he did last year.

“I risked everything. I have noth­ing to re­gret. Now we have the time trial but the Tour is al­ready a suc­cess.”

Everything that hap­pened dur­ing the ride from Bri­an­con, in­clud­ing the cat­e­gory one Col de Vars, was a pre­lude to the ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated fi­nal act on Izoard – a climb that is part of the folk­lore of the Tour, up there with Mont Ven­toux.

A large break­away group of some 54 rid­ers had grad­u­ally splin­tered by the time the stage lead­ers reached the start of the Izoard climb.

Kazakh Alexey Lut­senko was the first man to at­tack be­fore he was over­taken by Dar­win Ata­puma with 6km re­main­ing.

But it was to be Bar­guil’s day as he sewed up the polka dot jer­sey. He timed his move to per­fec­tion and with 1.5km to go he burst past Ata­puma and pow­ered to vic­tory.

Back down the road Bardet, whose AG2R team had tried valiantly to wear down the Team Sky train from half­way up the Col de Vars, fi­nally at­tacked Froome on the lu­nar land­scape of Izoard. But he could make no im­pres­sion.

It was Froome who sep­a­rated him­self from his ri­vals with a dev­as­tat­ing burst of speed that looked ter­mi­nal for Bardet and Uran be­fore they hauled them­selves back to the man in yel­low.

Bardet crossed be­fore Froome for a small time bonus but re­mains 23 sec­onds be­hind with Uran at 29.

Only an ex­tra­or­di­nary melt­down or a crash seem likely to stop the Bri­ton tak­ing a fourth Tour ti­tle as to­day’s 222km-stage to­wards the Mediter­ranean is rel­a­tively sim­ple and to­mor­row’s is a time trial in Mar­seille in which Froome will be con­fi­dent of ex­tend­ing his ad­van­tage.

PIC­TURE: AP

FIRST ONE HOME: France’s War­ren Bar­guil, wear­ing the best clim­ber’s dot­ted jer­sey cel­e­brates as he crosses the fin­ish line to win the eigh­teenth stage of the Tour de France cy­cling race from Bri­an­con to the Izoard pass yes­ter­day.

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