Froome hangs close in Alps, nears fourth title
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.