Froome hangs close in Alps, nears fourth ti­tle

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By John Le­ices­ter and Sa­muel Pe­tre­quin Chris Graythen, Getty Im­ages

BRI­AN­CON, FRANCE» One se­ries of gi­ant Tour de France moun­tains out of the way. One more to come. And one less ri­val for race leader Chris Froome to watch quite so closely.

By stick­ing like fly-pa­per to the en­ter­pris­ing Ro­main Bardet, de­spite the French rider’s ef­forts to dis­tance him on the race’s high­est peak, Froome took a big step Wednes­day to­ward a fourth Tour vic­tory this week­end in Paris.

Ital­ian Fabio Aru, on the other hand, fell be­hind on the bar­ren slopes of scree and patchy grass in the thin­ning air of the mighty Col du Gal­i­bier, one of the Tour’s most fear­some Alpine climbs.

Like a yo-yo, the Ital­ian re­peat­edly worked his way back to Froome’s group of top con­tenders. But a last burst of speed from Bardet to­ward the top of the moun­tain pass, which rises 8,668 feet in al­ti­tude, proved de­ci­sive. Froome stayed with the French rider who stood next to him on the Paris podium last year, in sec­ond place. Aru did not.

On the long and hairy high-speed de­scent from there to the fin­ish, they ped­aled fu­ri­ously to pre­vent Aru from catch­ing them, whisk­ing through the bends with no safety bar­ri­ers and no mar­gin for er­ror. At their quick­est, the rid­ers de­scended at 45 mph.

Rigob­erto Uran, the Colom­bian who is mak­ing a habit at this Tour of be­ing in the right place at the right time, al­ways in Froome’s shadow, zoomed down in that group, too.

The bill, at the end, was costly for Aru.

Hav­ing started Stage 17 in sec­ond place over­all, just 18 sec­onds be­hind Froome, the As­tana team rider slipped back to fourth — 53 sec­onds be­hind the race leader, who is get­ting stronger in the last week of the three-week cy­cling marathon.

Uran leapfrogged from fourth to sec­ond over­all. Bardet is still third. That podium could stick all the way to Paris on Sun­day, as they both trail Froome by 27 sec­onds.

“At this stage of the race, ev­ery­one’s on their hands and knees, let’s see what hap­pens,” Froome said. “It’s still all to race for.”

Beat­ing ev­ery­one to the top of the Gal­i­bier — a feat that earned him a bonus of $5,750 from race or­ga­niz­ers — was Tour rookie Pri­moz Roglic. Show­ing nerves of steel on the 17-mile de­scent to the fin­ish at the Ser­reChe­va­lier ski sta­tion, the former ski jumper be­came the first Slove­nian to win a stage in the 114-year his­tory of the Tour.

“It’s un­be­liev­able,” Roglic said. “A re­ally crazy stage.”

Froome’s group of Uran, Bardet and French rider War­ren Bar­guil rolled over the line 1 minute and 13 sec­onds af­ter the 27-year-old Team Lotto rider, who moved to cy­cling in his early twen­ties.

De­ter­mined not to give any ground, Froome out­sprinted Bardet to the fin­ish line, se­cur­ing four bonus sec­onds for plac­ing third on the stage. Uran was quicker still, beat­ing Froome to get six bonus sec­onds for sec­ond place.

“It was a big day of climb­ing,” Froome said. “My legs cer­tainly felt a lot bet­ter than a week ago in the Pyre­nees, which is a good sign.”

The Team Sky leader was greeted at the fin­ish by French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, who fol­lowed the stage in a car with the race di­rec­tor.

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