Froome puts himself in prime position
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.
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.