Sprint­ing away

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

Michael Matthews (above, left) won a sprint to the line in Stage 16 of the Tour de France as Bri­tain’s Chris Froome kept the yel­low jer­sey Tues­day ahead of two dif­fi­cult days in the Alps. Heavy cross­winds played havoc over the fi­nal 18 miles of the ride, caus­ing the pelo­ton to stretch and fre­quently break into sev­eral groups.

RO­MANS- SUR- ISERE, France — Ahead of two gru­el­ing 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 fi­nal leg of Tues­day’s 102.5-mile Stage 16 be­tween Le Puy-enVelay to Ro­mans-en-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 some 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 kilo­me­ters to go, the guys com­mit­ted to that and we saw the gaps open­ing out straight away.”

Froome, the de­fend­ing cham­pion, has an 18-sec­ond over­all lead over Aru, with Ro­main Bardet 23 sec­onds back in third place. Colom­bian Rigob­erto Uran com­pletes the lead­ing quar­tet, 29 sec­onds off the pace.

Landa, who has been im­pres­sive since the start of the Tour de­spite ded­i­cat­ing him­self to Froome, moved back to fifth over­all, 1:17 back.

“My­self and Mikel Landa are feel­ing great,” Froome said. “The next two days are

the big­gest con­sec­u­tive days in this year’s Tour de France. And the goal of my preparation for the Tour de France was to head into the third week feel­ing the way I’m feel­ing now.”

The bat­tle for the yel­low jer­sey will re­sume to­day dur­ing the first of two Alpine stages in high al­ti­tude. It will lead rid­ers to the ski sta­tion of Serre Che­va­lier through a gru­el­ing 113.1-mile trek fea­tur­ing four climbs, in­clud­ing the Col du Gal­i­bier — one of the Tour’s most fear­some and famed climbs at 11 miles, with a 10-per­cent gra­di­ent at the top.

Next will be the daunt­ing Stage 18 to the Col d’Izoard , which fea­tures a fi­nal 8.8mile as­cent to the top of the moun­tain, at an al­ti­tude of 2,360 me­ters.

“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 me­ters 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.

Tem­pers frayed af­ter the stage. Matthews claimed De­genkolb grabbed him by the neck out of frus­tra­tion and ac­cused him of go­ing into his line dur­ing the sprint.

“I did a clean sprint. I did not change my line,” Matthews said. “Af­ter the fin­ish, I was wait­ing for the re­sults, he came past and grabbed my neck. It was not very sports­man­like.”

On a dif­fi­cult ter­rain with con­stant up-and-downs across the lush forests of Mas­sif Cen­tral, sev­eral at­tacks had taken place dur­ing the first hour of rac­ing. Kit­tel was dropped in the first climb and strug­gled at the back through­out the day.

The Ger­man ace sprinter could not count on team­mate Philippe Gil­bert to bring him back — the for­mer world cham­pion did not start the stage in Le Puy-en-Ve­lay due to gas­troen­teri­tis. Stand­ing 12th over­all, Lotto NL Jumbo rider Ge­orge Ben­nett had a bad day and dropped out about 62 miles from the fin­ish.

AP/CHRISTOPHE ENA

AP/PETER DEJONG

Michael Matthews of Aus­tralia won the 16th stage of the Tour de France on Tues­day. Chris Froome of Great Bri­tain still leads the over­all stand­ings.

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