Calme­jane cap­tures eighth stage

Chal­lengers clos­ing in on Froome, who leads 10th-place cy­clist by only 61 sec­onds

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Le­ices­ter and An­drew Dampf

STA­TION DES ROUSSES, FRANCE» After nearly 900 miles in eight days of rac­ing, the suf­fer-fest Tour de France now turns the pain dial up a notch or five. How does scal­ing half the height of Ever­est in one day sound?

That’s the mon­strous chal­lenge lurk­ing on Sun­day for the 193 al­ready tired and sun­baked riders who have made it this far.

For the mo­ment, when race leader Chris Froome looks over his shoul­der, he sees a gag­gle of chal­lengers hot on his heels. Just 61 sec­onds sep­a­rate him from 10th-place Rafal Ma­jka of Poland. More dangerous con­tenders are closer still to the three­time Tour cham­pion.

All that will likely change on the suc­ces­sion of seven climbs in east­ern France’s Jura moun­tains on Sun­day — three of them so tough they defy cat­e­go­riza­tion on cy­cling’s slid­ing scale of climb­ing tough­ness. “A mon­ster stage” is how Froome de­scribed it, pre­dict­ing the race stand­ings will “get blown to pieces.”

To­tal el­e­va­tion, when all the as­cents are added to­gether: 15,000 feet. That’s just shy of the height of west­ern Europe’s high­est peak, Mont Blanc, and about belly but­ton-height on Ever­est.

The last “hors cat­e­gorie” climb, Mont du Chat, may be named after a cat but looks on Tour maps like a lion’s fang. With an av­er­age 10 per­cent gra­di­ent, and even steeper than that in parts, it will push riders al­ready ex­hausted by the pre­vi­ous six climbs to the very limit. Hearts pound­ing, legs burn­ing, they will have no time to re­cover from its hair­pin bends be­fore plung­ing into more fast, twist­ing bends on the de­scent. Clear heads and quick re­ac­tions are a must: Not easy when body and brain are scream­ing for rest.

“That climb is sav­age,” Froome said. “I imag­ine it’s go­ing to blow the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion right open.”

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters: Satur­day’s stage, also in the Jura moun­tains, was far from easy.

Froome’s team­mates at Sky had to ride hard to make sure that riders who rode off at the front of the race, chas­ing the stage victory, didn’t get too far ahead and take the over­all lead away from him. The ques­tion now is whether Sky will pay for the ef­fort on Sun­day and run out of juice on the 181.5-kilo­me­ter (112-mile) Stage 9 from Nan­tua to Cham­bery in the Alps, ar­guably the most gru­el­ing of this Tour’s 21 stages.

“It was good to see them pull on the front,” said Aus­tralian Richie Porte of the ri­val BMC team, who is 39 sec­onds be­hind Froome over­all, in fifth place. “I hope there’s some tired legs among them to­mor­row.”

Grind­ing away from pur­suers on a small moun­tain road more suited to goats than riders, Lil­ian Calme­jane won Stage 8 to the Rousses ski sta­tion, for his first victory in his first Tour.

Calme­jane, rid­ing for French team Direct En­ergie, fought cramp after break­ing away on the fi­nal climb and hung on, tongue lolling, for victory in only the sec­ond visit by the Tour to the Rousses, with its cross-coun­try ski trails through dense forests.

It was the sec­ond win at this Tour for a French rider, after Ar­naud De­mare’s on Stage 4.

Froome rode in 50 sec­onds after Calme­jane — plenty close enough to re­tain the yel­low jer­sey — in a group with all of the other top con­tenders for over­all victory in Paris on July 23.

Philippe Lopez, Getty Images

Great Bri­tain’s Christo­pher Froome, wear­ing the over­all leader’s yel­low jer­sey, rides in the pack past sup­port­ers cheer­ing dur­ing the eighth stage of the Tour de France.

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