Fromme, Sky send mes­sage to op­po­nents

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Sa­muel Pe­tre­quin and John Le­ices­ter

RO­MANS-SUR-ISERE, FRANCE» Ahead of two gru­el­ing alpine stages likely to de­cide the out­come of the 104th Tour de France, Chris Froome and his team­mates have sent a clear mes­sage to their ri­vals with an­other im­pres­sive dis­play of col­lec­tive strength.

Amid heavy cross­winds that played havoc in the fi­nale of Tues­day’s 102.5mile Stage 16 be­tween Le Puy-en-Ve­lay to Ro­mans-en-Isere, Team Sky rid­ers tried to un­set­tle their op­po­nents by set­ting a fre­netic tempo that split the pack like a jig­saw puz­zle.

Af­ter re­lent­less work from Vasil Kiryienka and Michal Kwiatkowski, only 22 rid­ers in­clud­ing Froome and team­mate Mikel Landa man­aged to stay in the re­duced bunch at the front.

Also among them were Fabio Aru, Ro­main Bardet and Rigob­erto Uran, who avoided the trap. But Dan Martin lost 51 sec­onds af­ter get­ting caught in a split in the fi­nale. He dropped to sev­enth place over­all, 2:03 off the pace.

At some point, it looked like Bardet was go­ing to be left be­hind but he was helped back to the lead­ing group by Oliver Nae­sen. Aus­tralian Michael Matthews won the stage in a sprint to the line.

With the race now in money time, with stages set to de­cide the fi­nal podium, Froome went straight to the point with his ag­gres­sive rac­ing. He ap­pears in great shape and has the best team sur­round­ing him in his bid to win a fourth Tour ti­tle.

“Ev­ery­one knew it was go­ing to split at some point,” said Froome. “For us it was more about just be­ing on the right side of it. Know­ing it was go­ing to kick off on that open sec­tion in the last 20 kilo­me­ters to go, the guys com­mit­ted to that and we saw the gaps open­ing out straight away.”

Froome, the de­fend­ing cham­pion, has an 18-sec­ond over­all lead over Aru, with Ro­main Bardet 23 sec­onds back in third place. Colom­bian Rigob­erto Uran com­pletes the lead­ing quar­tet, 29 sec­onds off the pace.

Landa, who has been im­pres­sive since the start of the Tour de­spite ded­i­cat­ing him­self to Froome, moved back to fifth over­all, 1 minute, 17 sec­onds back.

“My­self and Mikel Landa are feel­ing great,” said Froome. “The next two days are the big­gest con­sec­u­tive days in this year’s Tour de France. And the goal of my preparation for the Tour de France was to head into the third week feel­ing the way I’m feel­ing now.”

The bat­tle for the yel­low jer­sey will re­sume on Wed­nes­day dur­ing the first of two alpine stages in high al­ti­tude. It will lead rid­ers to the ski sta­tion of Serre Che­va­lier through a gru­el­ing 114mile trek fea­tur­ing four climbs, in­clud­ing the Col du Gal­i­bier — one of the Tour’s most fear­some and famed climbs at 11 miles, with a 10-per­cent gra­di­ent at the top.

Next will be the daunt­ing Stage 18 to the Col d’Izoard, which fea­tures a fi­nal 8.8-mile as­cent to the peak of the moun­tain, at an al­ti­tude of 7,743 feet.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to the Alps,” Froome said.

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