Bar­guil de­liv­ers Bastille Day win to France; Aru still leads

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Quick Hits - By John Le­ices­ter and Sa­muel Petrequin

FOIX, France — Af­ter the set­back, the fightback.

The day af­ter los­ing the Tour de France lead to Fabio Aru, Chris Froome and his Team Sky showed on Fri­day they still have cards up their sleeves. On the short­est stage of the 104th Tour, bar­ring the two time-tri­als, Sky brought Mikel Landa into play — send­ing Froome’s Span­ish team­mate rac­ing off ahead on a fast and fu­ri­ous Stage 13 that be­came part-chess, part a test of speed and en­durance over a close-packed suc­ces­sion of three climbs in the Pyre­nees.

End re­sult: Sky has two rid­ers — Froome and Landa — in the top five. From here to the July 23 fin­ish in Paris, Aru will have to watch both like a hawk and not let ei­ther race off ahead of him in or­der to keep the famed yel­low jer­sey.

“It’s per­fect for us,” Froome said.

At just 101 kilo­me­ters (63 miles), less than half the dis­tance of some of this Tour’s long­est stages, the up-down, up-down, up-down route through the Ariege re­gion of moun­tain cheeses and peakperched fortresses de­liv­ered ex­actly what Tour or­ga­niz­ers were hop­ing for: Full-on rac­ing. They even got a cherry on top, with French rider War­ren Bar­guil win­ning the stage on Bastille Day — the first tri­color vic­tory on France’s na­tional hol­i­day since David Mon­coutie in 2005.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble,” said Bar­guil, who has re­cov­ered re­mark­ably quickly from a pelvis frac­ture in a crash in April. “I said be­fore the start it would be good if a French­man won. It’s ex­cep­tional.”

The Sun­web team rider sped into the fin­ish in Foix, over­looked by its im­pos­ing 11th cen­tury cas­tle dec­o­rated with a French tri­color of red, white and blue, as part of a four-man group that in­cluded Landa, two-time Tour cham­pion Al­berto Con­ta­dor, and Nairo Quin­tana, a podium fin­isher at three pre­vi­ous Tours.

Con­ta­dor ac­cel­er­ated first in the fi­nal sprint, but Bar­guil re­acted im­me­di­ately and adeptly ne­go­ti­ated the last U-bend on a bridge over the Ariege river, hold­ing off Quin­tana to the line. Con­ta­dor placed third. Tes­ti­fy­ing to the brevity and re­lent­less rac­ing ac­tion of the stage, Bar­guil cov­ered the dis­tance in just 2 1/2 hours, half the time of longer stages with twice as much road to cover.

By fin­ish­ing fourth in that lead­ing pack that sped in nearly two min­utes ahead of a chas­ing group that in­cluded the Tour’s top four rid­ers over­all — Aru, Froome, French rider Ro­main Bardet and Colom­bian Rigob­erto Uran — Landa clawed back valu­able time in the over­all stand­ings. From sev­enth over­all at the start of the stage, Landa is fifth, just 1:09 be­hind Aru.

The Ital­ian said there won’t be a next time that he gives Landa such free­dom to es­cape.

“I knew he would try some­thing,” he said. “But I could not chase ev­ery sin­gle at­tack. From now he won’t get so much room.”

Aru stuck to Froome like glue on the stage, show­ing a cool head and strong legs as he rode much of the way with­out any team­mates, who couldn’t stay with the pace of their group. When Froome hared away on down­hills, Aru quickly fol­lowed in his wheels. With Froome only six sec­onds be­hind him over­all, the leader of the As­tana team knows he can’t af­ford to let the Bri­ton get away from him. The same is true with Bardet and Uran, who are only 25 sec­onds and 35 sec­onds back from the race leader, re­spec­tively. The thrillingly tight group­ing at the top prom­ises vig­or­ous bat­tles be­tween them in the last week of rac­ing.

“It was a short stage but it was filled with emo­tions,” Aru said. “There were at­tacks, peo­ple tried to at­tack me sev­eral times but I re­sponded ev­ery time. I stayed calm and fo­cused. I used my ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Aru suf­fered the blow of los­ing one of the strong­est As­tana rid­ers, Jakob Fuglsang, dur­ing the stage, the last of two in the Pyre­nees. The Dan­ish rider bravely took the stage start with frac­tures in his left wrist and el­bow sus­tained in a crash ear­lier in the week. Strug­gling from the out­set, he later aban­doned. His de­par­ture means Aru will have less sup­port to count on dur­ing climbs next week in the Alps, where he could again find him­self hav­ing to fight off at­tacks alone.

And hav­ing seen its tac­tics work this time, Sky is al­ready plan­ning its next move to put Froome back in the yel­low jer­sey he held for seven days be­fore Aru took it — with Landa as the team’s new joker.

“He’s a real threat now for the over­all ti­tle in Paris,” Froome said. “It’s a great card for us to play, es­pe­cially when As­tana don’t have the num­bers to con­trol the race.”

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