Chris Froome is adamant that he has not yet wrapped up his third Tour de France victory, insisting that the toughest part of the race lies ahead. Froome made it safely through Saturday's sprint stage to Villars-Les-Dombes, choosing to hide out in the peloton and keep his powder dry for the forthcoming mountains, unlike earlier in the week.
As the race dips into the Jura Mountains, Froome enjoys a 1:47 gap over second place Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and almost three minutes to last year's runner-up Nairo Quintana (Movistar). The Alps arrive soon after with two tough mountain stages and a time trial set to decide the overall winner.
"My expectation for the last week is that it is going to be a very testing week. It's going to be extremely tough, tougher than any of the stages that we've had up until now," said Froome. "I've recon'd most of those stages coming up in the last week, and they are hard, they are extremely hard," said Froome.
"Once we hit the Alps we've got four back to back days that that could make or break the Tour. A lot of people are saying that the Tour is already won, but that's absolute rubbish there is still a lot of hard stages to come... I am comfortable with the advantage that I've got. I've got a little bit of breathing space but having said that, the hardest part of the race is still to come. It's still all to play for."
Froome has looked far and away the strongest rider at this year's Tour de France, but he knows all too well how easily a lead can be eroded with one bad day. Quintana and his Movistar team cut Froome's lead down by almost two minutes in the final two mountain top finishes at the 2015 race. The complexion of the final week is much different with a downhill finish to Morzine on the final mountain stage of the Tour, and a mountain time trial two days earlier. Froome expects much of the same from the Spanish team in the coming days
"I've got no doubt he's going to attack in the Alps. If the last couple of years are anything to go by he goes really well in the third week. I've got no doubt that he's going to be trying. If not him then Alejandro Valverde seems to be going extremely well," he said.
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Going into the race, Quintana was tipped as Froome's biggest challenger after two second place finishes in 2015 and 2013. However, Mollema has been one of the surprises of the race, and Froome believes that the Dutchman is his biggest threat. "Bauke has ridden really well; he was there when I attacked on Mont Ventoux, he followed with Richie. He rode a very strong time trial yesterday. He finds himself in second place so at the moment I've got to consider him my biggest rival."
Two days on from the incident on Mont Ventoux that resulted in the exceptional scene of Froome running up the climb without his bike, the topic of time gaps continues to rumble on. At present, there are no regulations that covered what should be done in such an event but following the incident the UCI chose to nullify the time gaps at the finish, as they would do in the case of a crash during a sprint stage. There has been much discussion as to whether they were right or even had the right to do so. Trek-Segafredo appealed the jury's decision but the case was closed and the times stood as they were.
Froome only did a short interview with French television after stage 12 and would not answer questions on any sporting matters following yesterday's time trial. Speaking in his first proper press conference since the Mont Ventoux stage, Froome backed the decision by the UCI commissaires.
"They were extraordinary circumstances and from my point of view I think that the jury made the right decision in terms of the race," he said. "This was a really external factor that affected the race. The race was taking shape, the three of us were out in front, and obviously the motorbike blocked the road and caused the crash.
"Then a motorbike crashed into the back of me so I didn't even have a bike to ride to the finish so obviously from my point of view I think that they made the right decision in extreme circumstances. It was chaos out on the road there and difficult to know what was happening at the time."