Bid­ding for vic­tory

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - To­day’s Stage 16: Le Puy-en-Velay to Ro­mans-sur-Isere

The bat­tle for vic­tory will go down to the wire at the Tour de France. With just six stages left be­fore the event reaches the Champs-El­y­sees, only 29 sec­onds sep­a­rate the top four rid­ers. De­fend­ing cham­pion Chris Froome has an 18-sec­ond lead over Fabio Aru. Ro­main Bardet is 23 sec­onds back from the leader, and Rigob­erto Uran is in fourth.

LE PUY-EN-VELAY, France — The bat­tle for vic­tory will go down to the wire at the Tour de France.

With just six stages left be­fore the three-week race reaches the Champs-El­y­sees, only 29 sec­onds sep­a­rate the top four rid­ers in the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

De­fend­ing cham­pion and three-time win­ner Chris Froome has an 18-sec­ond lead over Fabio Aru of Italy. French­man Ro­main Bardet, the run­ner-up to Froome last year, is 23 sec­onds back from the leader, in third place. In fourth is Colom­bian Rigob­erto Uran.

It’s an un­usual sit­u­a­tion ahead of an in­tense fi­nal week of rac­ing that in­cludes two Alpine stages in high al­ti­tude and a short time trial.

“It’s the hard­est fought bat­tle in terms of Tours de France I’ve done be­fore,” Froome said dur­ing Mon­day’s rest day. “I’m just grate­ful I’m on the right side of those gaps.”

Froome has the strong­est team and re­mains the fa­vorite to win in Paris, de­spite some rare signs of weak­ness.

He en­dured a bad day in the Pyre­nees dur­ing a gru­el­ing stage to the ski sta­tion of Peyragudes, when he lost the over­all lead to Aru af­ter wear­ing the race leader’s yel­low jersey for seven days. But the Team Sky leader re­cov­ered in style two days later, when Aru was trapped at the back of the pelo­ton in Rodez.

On a windy day in the south of France, Froome and his team­mates showed their su­pe­ri­or­ity by rid­ing at the front when the pelo­ton stretched out and man­aged to put 24 sec­onds into their leader’s clos­est ri­val.

Froome’s main as­set in the fi­nal stretch will be the

strength of his team­mates. Ex­pect them to ride at the front in the moun­tains and to set a pun­ish­ingly fast tempo — all de­signed to pre­vent oth­ers from at­tack­ing. If Froome is in form, he will be un­touch­able.

The col­lec­tive strength of the Sky Team was on dis­play Sun­day when Froome was forced to change his rear wheel in the fi­nal 40 kilo­me­ters and got dropped.

“I was just stand­ing there on the side of the road with my team­mate Michal Kwiatkowski, try­ing to change wheels. I thought it was po­ten­tially game over for me,” Froome said.

But Kwiatkowski quickly handed over his wheel and Froome was helped back to the front by team­mates Ser­gio He­nao, Vasil Kiryienka and Mikel Nieve, eras­ing a 45-sec­ond gap.

Mikel Landa, who looks strong enough to be a leader in an­other team, was rid­ing at the front but waited for Froome to catch up and the pair worked to­gether to fin­ish with the main con­tenders.

Froome has also showed great com­po­sure and calm when in trou­ble. In dan­ger of los­ing the coveted leader’s jersey, he did not panic while Bardet, Uran and Aru failed to join forces at the front.

“I think Chris was strong be­cause he was calm. The temp­ta­tion can be to go too hard too quickly, you panic a lit­tle bit, go re­ally, re­ally deep to get on too quickly and of course you just ex­plode,” Team Sky man­ager Dave Brails­ford said.

Froome’s ri­vals now have to find a way to un­set­tle and iso­late him in the Alps be­fore Satur­day’s time trial in Mar­seille, where the Bri­tish rider will have the up­per hand in the race against the clock.

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