Fromme, Sky send message to opponents
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.