Froome puts him­self in prime po­si­tion

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

COL D’IZOARD, FRANCE» On the high­est moun­tain-top fin­ish of the 104th Tour de France, in a rocky moon­scape where the air thins, only the hardi­est or­gan­isms sur­vive. A few pine trees, tough old grasses, some stub­born flow­ers and, now join­ing that rare breed, Chris Froome.

Putting one hand on what would be his third straight Tour crown and fourth over­all since his first win in 2013, Froome emerged from the Alps on Thurs­day with the yel­low jer­sey fixed firmly on his shoul­ders. Hav­ing chewed his way through nearly 3,200 kilo­me­ters (2,000 miles) of French roads, just three stages now stand be­tween the Bri­ton and top spot on the Champs-El­y­sees podium in Paris on Sun­day night. And one of those is a time trial race against the clock, a dis­ci­pline he ex­cels in — hav­ing pro­vided him with bronze medals at the Olympics of 2012 and 2016.

With op­por­tu­ni­ties to de­throne the three-time cham­pion quickly run­ning out, French rider Ro­main Bardet and his AG2R team again put pedal to the metal and tried to make Froome crack on the last huge climb of this Tour, pil­ing on the pace up the pun­ish­ing Col d’Izoard — the cul­mi­na­tion of Thurs­day’s Stage 18 and one of the tough­est tests in a three-week race that has pro­duced sur­prises aplenty.

Froome was in no mood to be at the re­ceiv­ing end of an­other one.

Fend­ing off Bardet’s at­tacks, and putting in a strong one of his own that ini­tially rat­tled yet didn’t shake off the sturdy French­man, he pre­served a cush­ion of 23 sec­onds over­all that, un­less dis­as­ter strikes in the shape of a crash or other mis­for­tune, should be enough for vic­tory.

“I wouldn’t say it’s quite won,” Froome said, be­fore con­fi­dently adding: “The tough­est part of the Tour is be­hind us.”

French rider War­ren Bar­guil tri­umphed on the Izoard’s bar­ren slopes, win­ning his sec­ond stage of the tour af­ter he at­tacked with six kilo­me­ters (four miles) left to climb to the top. He also won Stage 13 on Bastille Day.

Bar­guil grad­u­ally reeled in rid­ers ahead of him on the hair­pin bends and steep road — the last be­ing John Dar­win Ata­puma of Colom­bia, with about 1.5 kilo­me­ters (1 mile) left to the fin­ish, at an al­ti­tude of 2,360 me­ters (7,743 feet), amid deserts of scree.

Chris Graythen, Getty Im­ages

War­ren Bar­guil of France crosses the fin­ish line in Bri­an­con, France, on Thurs­day and wins the 18th stage of the 104th Tour de France, but Great Britain’s Chris Froome ap­pears set to win his third con­sec­u­tive over­all ti­tle.

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