Froome nearly de­railed when bike breaks down

Over­all race leader over­comes bro­ken wheel in Stage 15

The Denver Post - - OFF & RUNNING - By John Le­ices­ter and Sa­muel Pe­tre­quin Lionel Bon­aven­ture, Getty Im­ages

LE PUY-EN-VE­LAY, FRANCE» Great Bri­tain’s Chris Froome fought back from a bike break­down to cling to his race leader’s yel­low jer­sey on the tricky Stage 15 of the Tour de France, won Sun­day with a coura­geous solo break­away by Bauke Mollema of the Nether­lands.

The back wheel of three-time Tour cham­pion Froome broke at the worst pos­si­ble time, just as the AG2R team of close ri­val Ro­main Bardet was pick­ing up the pace ahead of the last big climb of the day. That was a 5-mile slog up the steep Col de Peyra Tail­lade — scaled for the very first time by the Tour.

By the time Froome had stopped, taken a wheel off team­mate Michal Kwiatkowski and got go­ing again, Bardet’s group was al­ready way ahead — about one minute ahead of him down the road.

Aside from Bardet, other top riders were also in that group, in­clud­ing Fabio Aru and Rigob­erto Uran — all within 30 sec­onds of Froome in the over­all stand­ings. Ear­lier at the Tour, Froome’s ri­vals had waited for the race leader to catch back up to them when he suf­fered another me­chan­i­cal prob­lem, that one with his gears. But there was no such po­lite­ness this time.

Froome had two choices: Catch them or lose the over­all race lead and the famed yel­low jer­sey that goes with it.

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

He hared af­ter them. Helped first by team­mates Mikel Nieve and then by Mikel Landa, Froome worked fu­ri­ously on the climb to reel in Bardet’s group — past cheer­ing crowds with some peo­ple who booed as he la­bored past them.

“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.”

Froome said the back-wheel prob­lem seemed to be a bro­ken spoke. “The wheel wasn’t straight any­more,” he said. By re­cov­er­ing from the mis­for­tune, Froome now takes the yel­low jer­sey and an 18sec­ond lead over Aru into Mon­day’s rest day, the last of two at the 104th Tour, ahead of a cru­cial last week of racing in the Alps and with a time trial in Mar­seille.

Ir­ish rider Dan Martin moved up from sixth to fifth over­all by pow­er­ing ahead of the lead­ers’ group in the fi­nal stretch. Now just 1:12 be­hind Froome — hav­ing started the day 1:26 back — Martin can ex­pect to be watched even more closely by Froome from now on.

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

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