Stage 17: as it happened
Tour de France leader Chris Froome says he would support any move by race organisers to shorten Thursday’s 18th stage in the Alps should weather forecasts of heavy rain prove correct and make the descent of the Col de Serenne that comes between the two scheduled climbs of l’Alpe d’Huez before the finish too dangerous.
Froome (Sky), who added a third stage win in this year’s 100th edition of the Tour by taking out the 17th stage 32km mountain time trial from Embrun to Chorges in the Alps on Wednesday, spoke of his concern about the 27km descent from the Serenne summit after Tuesday’s 16th stage to Gap.
But as storms built over the Alps on Wednesday after he extended his overall lead with his time trial victory on a day that also saw a number of riders race in rain, Froome said the race organisers, Amaury Sports Organisation, should cut out the Sarenne descent if conditions make it too dangerous.
This year is the first time that two passages up l’Alpe d’Huez have been included in the same stage, but if organisers eliminate the Sarenne descent the stage would have to finish after the first climb up the iconic climb.
“It would be sad not to do the planned ‘parcours’ [race route] of two times [up l’Alpe d’Huez], Froome said. “[It is] special, that goes with 100th edition of the Tour de France, but safety definitely comes first. So if it is raining I would hope the race organisers take a decision to only race it the first time.
“It’s a good idea. It’s a really dangerous descent and if it is raining it s only going to make it more dangerous. I hope organisers use some caution.”
By Wednesday evening race organisers had made no official statement on the issue. In any case, no decision could be made on it until the last minute.
When told of Froome’s concerns, Bjarne Riis, the manager of the Saxo-Tinkoff team led by second placed Spaniard Alberto Contador, told reporters on Wednesday: “He should use his brakes more if he’s afraid on the descents. We are going to attack everywhere, whether it is going uphill or downhill.”
In reply, Froome said: “Fair enough, I can completely understand that and at the end of the day all riders are in the same conditions. So if we have to do a dangerous descent in the wet then we are up for that. But I just hope safety-wise it’s not going to get like that. It is a very dangerous descent and the surface is not great.”
Froome, who had already won stage 8 to Ax 3 Domaines in the Pyrenees and stage 15 to Mont Ventoux – known as the ‘Giant of Provence’ – took out Wednesday’s time trial that included two second category climbs, in a time of 51 minutes 33.66 seconds and at an average speed of 37.245kmh.
He beat the Spanish pair of Contador, second at 9secs, and third placed Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) by 10secs. Behind the first three on the stage came the Czech Republic’s Roman Kreuzinger (Saxo-Tinkoff) in fourth at 23secs and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in fifth at 30secs.
Meanwhile, the ever improving Colombian Nairo Quintana (Movistar) who is still the white jersey as best young rider, placed sixth at 1min1 1secs.
The big losers were Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Belkin) who finished 11th at 2mins 9secs and dropped from second overall at 4mins 14secs to Froome to fourth at 6mins 23secs, and Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r) who started the day placed ninth overall at 8mins 47secs but crashed out in the stage.
Peraud, who started the stage despite fracturing his right collarbone in a crash on the descent of the first mountain during a reconnaissance ride earlier in the day, had to quit the Tour after he fell again on his right side on a sharp right hand bend with two kilometres to go.
Heading into Thursday’s 18th stage from Gap to the top of l’Alpe d’Huez that is 168.5km long with the historic two ascents of the legendary last mountain included, Froome’s overall lead is now 4mins 34secs on Contador, 4mins 51secs on Kreuzinger. After Mollema in fourth, Quintana is fifth at 6mins 58secs.
From the Australians, Michael Rogers (Saxo-Tinkoff) is now 11th overall at 13mins 19secs after his 13th at 2mins 25secs on the stage, while Cadel Evans (BMC) is 18th overall at 24mins 24secs, after holding back energy for a hoped tilt at stage win and placing 167th at 8mins 4secs on the stage.
For Froome, the idea was also to hold back his resources. He was surprised that he won the stage, after expecting to lose 30 seconds to a minute.
He certainly finished strong after clocking the fourth fastest time at 11secs to Contador at the first time check on the Cote de Puy Sanieres at 6.5km.
Just before the next time check on the Cote de Reallon at 20km, Froome changed bikes from the one he started with and was set up for climbing to a more aerodynamic bike fitted with bigger gears for a fast finish to reach the second time check at the Reallon summit second fastest at 2secs to Contador.
“I went in to today [thinking], ‘I am going to give this a good shot, but I’m not going to empty myself ‘in respect with what is coming up [in the next three mountain stages in the Alps],” Froome said. “I’m over the moon [to have won]. I expected to lose 30 seconds to a minute to the best riders today.”
Froome felt the bike change made a difference in his result. However, he said the plan for a bike switch was made that morning.
“I was thinking more about the gearing on the bike [than aerodynamics] to have a much bigger gear for the second part and the descent which is much faster,” he said.
Despite his convincing overall lead, Froome still expects to be challenged as the Tour tackles three brutal stages in the Alps – especially by Contador.
“I don’t put anything past Alberto Contador. He will keep pressuring all the way to Paris,” Froome said, referring to where the Tour ends on Sunday.
“I’m looking to keep the yellow now, and not to attack and win any more stages … [but then] if opportunity presents itself naturally I will take it.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.