Le Tour heats up as more mountains loom
18 Jul 17
The chopper’s panning camera found him: a dot of yellow at the bottom of the screen.
Chris Froome, race leader, frantically waiting for a replacement wheel as his rivals tore uphill towards the finish. The moment – on the Montée de Naves d’Aubrac during stage 15 – was yet another crisis point on Froome’s quest for a fourth Tour de France win. Can he hold on? Only time will tell.
The race entered its second rest day after a gripping stage that saw Froome (Team Sky) preserve his 18-second margin over Fabio Aru (Astana Pro Team), with AG2R La Mondiale rider Romain Bardet at 23 seconds and Cannondale Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran 29 seconds from the lead. Sunday’s mechanical cost Froome more than a minute; he was able to return to the main GC field with support from teammates including Mikel Landa, who dropped back to help near the summit of the climb.
“I’m certainly feeling the pressure,” Froome said after the stage. “It’s a close race, but we knew that coming into this year’s Tour de France with so few time trial kilometres, so few summit finishes.”
Week two of the Tour de France began with Froome looking comfortable in yellow, an image that evaporated on stage 12’s uphill finish. The Briton cracked just as his rivals accelerated towards the line; Bardet took the win while Aru moved to yellow with a six-second margin. The maillot jaune returned to Froome after stage 14 between Saint-Girons and Foux, but nerves were rattled.
“I’m very grateful that I’m on the right side of the time split at the moment,” Froome said on Sunday. “I’m not trying to make up time on anyone at the moment, which is a great position to be in, especially with two big mountain stages to come and obviously the final time trial in Marseille that I’m certainly looking forward to as well.”
Six stages remain in the 2017 Tour de France. Stage 17 will see the peloton tackle an epic route through the Alps: the Croix de Fer, Télégraphe and Galibier passes are all on the agenda, promising another showdown among the GC contenders. Stage 18 finishes atop the legendary Col d’Izoard: the stakes are high and double points for climbers are on offer at the summit.
Stage 20 is a 22.5km individual time trial in Marseille and could very well determine who stands on the podium in Paris. Froome is considered strongest in time trialling among the overall race contenders, though the past fortnight has shown the margin between triumph and trouble can be wafer-thin.
Australian riders’ fortunes at this year’s Tour de France have been mixed: Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) took a decisive win on stage 14 and sits in second to Marcel Kittel in the points classification, while Richie Porte (BMC Racing Team) continues his recovery at home following a horrifying crash on stage nine. ORICA-Scott’s hopes continue to rest with British team member Simon Yates, who has lead of more than three minutes over UAE Team Emirates rider Louis Meintjes in the young rider classification.
Late nights in front of the TV might be starting to take their toll, but the final week of this year’s Tour de France is definitely worth staying up for.
The Tour de France finishes on 23 July.