Rid­ers brac­ing for ‘a mon­ster stage’ in moun­tains

The Washington Post Sunday - - BASEBALL - BY JOHN LE­ICES­TER AND AN­DREW DAMPF

sta­tion des rousses, france — Af­ter nearly 900 miles in eight days of rac­ing, the suf­fer-fest Tour de France now turns the pain dial up a notch or five. How does scal­ing half the height of Ever­est in one day sound?

That’s the mon­strous chal­lenge lurk­ing Sun­day for the 193 al­ready tired and sun­baked rid­ers who have made it this far.

For the mo­ment, when race leader Chris Froome looks over his shoul­der, he sees a gag­gle of chal­lengers hot on his wheels. Just 61 sec­onds sep­a­rate him from 10th-place Rafal Ma­jka of Poland. More dan­ger­ous con­tenders are closer still to the three-time Tour cham­pion.

All that likely will change on the suc­ces­sion of seven climbs in east­ern France’s Jura moun­tains — three of them so tough they defy cat­e­go­riza­tion on cy­cling’s slid­ing scale of climb­ing tough­ness. “A mon­ster stage” is how Froome de­scribed it, pre­dict­ing the race stand­ings will “get blown to pieces.”

To­tal el­e­va­tion, when all the as­cents are added to­gether: 15,000 feet. That’s just shy of the height of western Europe’s high­est peak, Mont Blanc, and about belly but­ton-height on Ever­est.

The last “hors cat­e­gorie” climb, Mont du Chat, is named af­ter a cat but looks on Tour maps like a lion’s fang. With an av­er­age 10 per­cent gra­di­ent and even steeper than that in parts, it will push rid­ers al­ready ex­hausted by the pre­vi­ous six climbs to the very limit. Hearts pound­ing, legs burn­ing, they will have no time to re­cover from its hair­pin bends be­fore plung­ing into more fast, twist­ing bends on the de­scent. Clear heads and quick re­ac­tions are a must: Not easy when body and brain are scream­ing for rest.

“That climb is sav­age,” Froome said. “I imag­ine it’s go­ing to blow the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion right open.”

Com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters: Satur­day’s stage, also in the Jura moun­tains, was far from easy.

Froome’s team­mates at Sky had to ride hard to make sure that rid­ers who rode off at the front of the race, chas­ing the stage vic­tory, didn’t get too far ahead and take the over­all lead away from him. The ques­tion now is whether Sky will pay for the ef­fort Sun­day and run out of juice on the 112-mile Stage 9 from Nan­tua to Cham­bery in the Alps, ar­guably the most gru­el­ing of this Tour’s 21 stages.

“It was good to see them pull on the front,” said Aus­tralian Richie Porte of the ri­val BMC team, who is 39 sec­onds be­hind Froome over­all, in fifth place. “I hope there’s some tired legs among them to­mor­row.”

Grind­ing away from pur­suers on a small moun­tain road more suited to goats than rid­ers, Lil­ian Calme­jane won Stage 8 to the Rousses ski sta­tion for his first vic­tory in his first Tour.

Calme­jane, rid­ing for French team Direct En­ergie, fought cramps af­ter break­ing away on the fi­nal climb and hung on, tongue lolling, for vic­tory in only the second visit by the Tour to the Rousses, with its cross-coun­try ski trails through dense forests.

It was the second win at this Tour for a French rider, af­ter Ar­naud De­mare’s on Stage 4.

Froome rode in 50 sec­onds af­ter Calme­jane — plenty close enough to re­tain the yel­low jer­sey — in a group with all of the other top con­tenders for over­all vic­tory in Paris on July 23.

His day wasn’t with­out in­ci­dent: On a down­hill bend af­ter the second of three rated climbs on the 116-mile stage from Dole, the Bri­ton went into road­side gravel in­stead of cor­ner­ing.

PETER DEJONG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

France’s Lil­ian Calme­jane, right, won the eighth stage Satur­day. He and the other 192 rid­ers will have plenty of climb­ing to do Sun­day.

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