Chris Froome maintains his lead after 17 stages of the Tour de France.
BRIANCON, France — One series of giant Tour de France mountains out of the way. One more to come. And one less rival for race leader Chris Froome to watch quite so closely.
By sticking like fly-paper to the enterprising Romain Bardet, despite the French rider’s efforts to distance him on the race’s highest peak, Froome took a big step Wednesday toward a fourth Tour victory this weekend in Paris.
Italian Fabio Aru, on the other hand, fell behind on the barren slopes of scree and patchy grass in the thinning air of the mighty Col du Galibier, one of the Tour’s most fearsome Alpine climbs.
Like a yo-yo, the Italian repeatedly worked his way back to Froome’s group of top contenders. But a last burst of speed from Bardet toward the top of the mountain pass, which rises 8,668 feet in altitude, proved decisive. Froome stayed with the French rider who stood next to him on the Paris podium last year, in second place. Aru did not.
On the long and hairy high-speed descent from there to the finish, they pedaled furiously to prevent Aru from catching them, whisking through the bends with no safety barriers and no margin for error. At their quickest, the riders descended at 45 mph.
Rigoberto Uran, the Colombian who is making a habit at this Tour of being in the right place at the right time, always in Froome’s shadow, zoomed down in that group, too.
Having started Stage 17 in second place overall, just 18 seconds behind Froome, Aru slipped back to fourth — 53 seconds behind the race leader, who is getting stronger in the last week of the threeweek cycling marathon.
Uran leapfrogged from fourth to second overall. Bardet is still third. That podium could stick all the way to Paris on Sunday, as they both trail Froome by 27 seconds.
“At this stage of the race, everyone’s on their hands and knees, let’s see what happens,” Froome said. “It’s still all to race for.”
Beating everyone to the top of the Galibier — a feat that earned him a bonus of $5,750 from race organizers — was Tour rookie Primoz Roglic. Showing nerves of steel on the 17-mile descent to the finish at the Serre-Chevalier ski station, the former ski jumper became the first Slovenian to win a stage in the 114-year history of the Tour.
“It’s unbelievable,” Roglic said. “A really crazy stage.”
Froome’s group of Uran, Bardet and French rider Warren Barguil rolled over the line 1 minute and 13 seconds after the 27-year-old Team Lotto rider, who moved to cycling in his early twenties.
Determined not to give any ground, Froome outsprinted Bardet to the finish line, securing four bonus seconds for placing third on the stage. Uran was quicker still, beating Froome to get six bonus seconds for second place.
“It was a big day of climbing,” Froome said. “My legs certainly felt a lot better than a week ago in the Pyrenees, which is a good sign.”
The Team Sky leader was greeted at the finish by French President Emmanuel Macron, who followed the stage in a car with the race director.
If he wants to catch up with the main contenders, Aru will have to strike back today in the last Alpine stage, with a mountain-top finish at the Col d’Izoard — another storied 6,500-feet pass.
After that, the last big opportunity to make up places is the race-against-the-clock time trial in Marseille on Saturday. But that discipline isn’t Aru’s forte — unlike Froome.
“I fought until the very last meters, I gave my all to minimize losses,” Aru said. “Anyway, I don’t see a big drama in today’s stage. The race ends in Paris.”
While Bardet’s repeated bursts of acceleration on the Galibier eventually cracked Aru, they couldn’t shake off Froome. To hold onto the race leader’s yellow jersey all the way to Paris, the three-time champion can ride defensively, keeping tabs on Uran and Bardet and, now to a lesser extent, on Aru.
“I did my utmost,” Bardet said. “I raced to take the jersey and I came close to dropping them at the top of the Galibier. I attacked. That’s the way I love to race. I have no regrets. I tried everything.”
The Tour lost Marcel Kittel, the winner of five stages this year, after he crashed. The German had been leading the Tour’s green jersey competition, awarded for points collected in sprints during and at the end of stages. With his departure, Australian Michael Matthews inherits the jersey.
“At this stage of the race, everyone’s on their hands and knees, let’s see what happens. It’s still all to race for.” — Chris Froome
Chris Froome maintained his overall lead at the Tour de France after finishing third in Wednesday’s stage 17 race in Briancon, France.