Chris Froome still in con­trol with three stages left in the Tour de France.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS -

COL D’IZOARD, France — On the high­est moun­tain-top fin­ish of the 104th Tour de France, in a rocky moon­scape where the air thins, only the hardi­est or­gan­isms — pine trees, tough old grasses and stub­born flow­ers — sur­vive. You can add Chris Froome to that list.

Putting one hand on what would be his third con­sec­u­tive Tour crown and fourth over­all since his first vic­tory in 2013, Froome emerged from the Alps on Thurs­day with the yel­low jer­sey firmly on his shoul­ders. Hav­ing chewed his way through nearly 2,000 miles of French roads, just three stages now stand be­tween him and top spot on the Champs-El­y­sees podium in Paris on Sun­day. And one of those is a time trial, a dis­ci­pline he ex­cels in.

With op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­throne the three-time cham­pion quickly run­ning out, French rider Ro­main Bardet and his AG2R team again put pedal to the metal and tried to make Froome crack on the last huge climb this year, pil­ing on the pace up the pun­ish­ing Col d’Izoard — the cul­mi­na­tion of Thurs­day’s Stage 18 and one of the tough­est tests in a three-week race that has pro­duced sur­prises aplenty.

Fend­ing off Bardet’s at­tacks, and putting in a strong one of his own that ini­tially rat­tled yet didn’t shake off the sturdy French­man, he pre­served a cush­ion of 23 sec­onds over­all that, un­less dis­as­ter strikes in the shape of a crash or other mis­for­tune, should be enough for vic­tory.

French rider War­ren Bar­guil tri­umphed on the Izoard’s bar­ren slopes, win­ning his sec­ond stage of the tour af­ter he at­tacked with four miles left to climb to the top. He also won Stage 13 last Fri­day.

Bar­guil grad­u­ally reeled in rid­ers ahead of him on the hair­pin bends and steep road — the last be­ing John Dar­win Ata­puma of Colom­bia, with about a mile left to the fin­ish, at an al­ti­tude of 7,743 feet.

He is now guar­an­teed to win the polka-dot jer­sey awarded for points col­lected dur­ing the Tour on climbs.

Froome’s lead, while far smaller than at the same stage in the Tours he won in 2013, 2015 and 2016, is suf­fi­cient for him not to have to take un­nec­es­sary risks on the twist­ing and tech­ni­cal time-trial course in Mar­seille on Satur­day. His Team Sky should also be strong enough to con­trol the race on Fri­day’s stage out of the Alps through Provence, which isn’t tough enough to pro­voke a big shake-up in the stand­ings. And Sun­day’s ride into Paris is tra­di­tion­ally a pro­ces­sion be­fore only the sprint­ers con­test vic­tory at the end.

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