Froome chases down rivals after broken wheel spoke
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.
Chris Froome (yellow jersey) grimaces as he climbs with Romain Bardet (right), Rigoberto Uran (second from left) and Fabio Aru ( far left) Sunday.