Froome chases down ri­vals af­ter bro­ken wheel spoke

San Francisco Chronicle - - SPORTS - By Samuel Pe­tre­quin and John Leices­ter Samuel Pe­tre­quin and John Leices­ter are As­so­ci­ated Press writ­ers.

LE PUY-EN-VE­LAY, France — If Chris Froome rides into Paris on Sun­day with the Tour de France’s famed yel­low jersey still on his shoul­ders, it will be im­pos­si­ble to ar­gue that he didn’t earn the win.

In an­other day of drama Sun­day in a 104th Tour full of twists, Froome broke a back­wheel spoke at the worst pos­si­ble time on Stage 15 — just as his top ri­vals were pick­ing up speed in front of him go­ing into yet an­other pun­ish­ing climb. By the time Froome had stopped, taken a wheel off his team­mate Michal Kwiatkowski and got go­ing again, they were al­ready about one minute down the road.

Froome had two choices: pour all his en­ergy into catch­ing them or lose his over­all race lead and its yel­low jersey that al­ready has changed hands three times since the Tour started July 1.

“Panic sta­tions,” he said. “I re­ally thought that that could be the yel­low jersey chang­ing shoul­ders again.”

Like a hound chas­ing prey, Froome raced af­ter Ro­main Bardet, Fabio Aru and Rigob­erto Uran — the three rid­ers all within 30 sec­onds of Froome in the over­all stand­ings of the Tour that has be­come thrillingly close.

Cheered by par­ti­san crowds on the 5-mile slog up the steep Col de Peyra Tail­lade — scaled for the very first time by the Tour — Bardet’s French team AG2R put the ham­mer down.

Fur­ther back, Froome re­al­ized that if he didn’t catch Bardet’s team by the top, he might not be able to do so. The race was on. Helped first by team­mates Mikel Nieve and then by Mikel Landa, and booed by some spec­ta­tors as he la­bored past them, Froome worked fu­ri­ously on the climb to reel in Bardet’s group.

“They all emp­tied them­selves to get me back into the race,” Froome said of his team­mates. “I had to get back by the top of the climb. Other­wise, it was game over for me.

“It was a stress­ful mo­ment. I thought I might not get back to the front.”

By re­cov­er­ing from the mis­for­tune, Froome takes the jersey and an 18-sec­ond lead over Aru into Mon­day’s rest day, ahead of the last week of rac­ing in the Alps and with a time trial in Mar­seille.

“It’s go­ing to be ev­ery sec­ond at this point,” Froome said, “ev­ery sec­ond all the way into Paris.”

The stage was won by Bauke Mollema of the Nether­lands.

Jeff Pachoud / As­so­ci­ated Press

Chris Froome (yel­low jersey) gri­maces as he climbs with Ro­main Bardet (right), Rigob­erto Uran (sec­ond from left) and Fabio Aru ( far left) Sun­day.

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