On the bike, Chris Froome (Team Sky) only had to repel attacks from his rivals rather than any roadside fans during stage 16 to Gap, and was able to put another day behind him in the yellow jersey. Off the bike, it was the Tour de France leader who went on the offensive against the journalists who have stirred up questions surrounding his performance, and is now ready to release his power data to back up his assertions that he races clean.
Late after Sunday's stage Froome had thanked British television channel ITV for questioning Laurent Jalabert about his innuendo and speculation about Froome's performances in this year's Tour de France. He posted a link to the video interview of Jalabert shirking away from questions and wrote: “If you're going to deny making statements about me maybe you should remember that you're being recorded on Live TV/Radio.”
He reiterated his thoughts on Jalabert and former dopers working as television pundits during questions with the written media at the Tour de France.
“Personally I'm not a fan of that. I've made that very clear,” Froome said. “I don't believe these are best role models and spokesman for the sport in this day and age. Of course, that's my personal opinion.”
When asked, Froome also revealed his racing weight during the Tour de France and said he was in favour of other data being published after Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford had said at the start of the stage he was willing to reveal some of Froome's numbers.
"My weight fluctuates on a daily basis and on the fuelling strategy for the day and also on the fluids I take in. It varies on a daily basis from 67 to 68kg,” Froome said.
“The power data is intellectual property of the team and if they're happy to give it out, then I'm to support that, no problem.”
Froome questioned why he faces more scrutiny that other previous Grand Tour winners.
“I wouldn't say they need more scrutiny but I've got to admit it's frustrating to an extent that if you look at last five Grand Tour winners, there's not the same outcry for data and numbers. We didn't see it with Contador, we didn't see the same level of questioning. I don't really understand why it seems to be such a hot topic in the Tour de France because I won a mountain stage (to La Pierre-Saint-Martin in the Pyrenees) by 59 seconds. It just seems strange to me.”
Froome also refuted a suggestion that this year's Tour de France route was too tough for riders competing in a post-EPO fuelled era.
“No certainly not. The racing is only as hard as riders make it. Yesterday looked easy on paper but was one of the hardest of the Tour because everyone wanted to go full gas, in the break or to pull it back. The parcours doesn't make the race harder, it's more what the teams want to get out of the race.”
Stage 16 of the race was not without incident for the Sky team, but Froome was luckily ahead of the crash that saw teammate Geraint Thomas go off the road on a corner of the descent of the Col de Manse - a similar stretch of the descent was made famous by Lance Armstrong's diversion into a field in 2003. Froome finished with his main rivals 18:12 behind stage winner Ruben Plaza Molina (Lampre-Merida), while Thomas trailed by 38 seconds, preserving his sixth place overall.
“Today was a nice day to tick off, it was stressful with final climb before the descent made famous with stories of crashes,” Froome said, also thanking race director and other riders in the peloton for calling on the fans to treat him with respect from the roadside.
Froome seemed happier to talk about the stage and heard via the media that Thomas was okay after his crash and had actually lost little time.
“I didn't see the crash myself but it's never nice to hear on the radio that a teammate has crashed, especially Geraint, who has been up there on every stage and is up there in the GC too. But he's a tough guy and showed it by getting back on his bike," Froome said. "A rider chopped him up and took him down, Barguil I think. He's tough though, he got back on his bike and got back straight into it. He's a Welshman. That says it all. He's a tough lad and I'm sure he'll bounce back.”
“I think we had a good day as a team. Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard did a good job controlling the race until getting to the foot of last climb. Pete Kennaugh abandoned the race and that's a big loss. He's been struggling with illness, he suffered yesterday and today. We're going to share the work with riders we have but we're all fit and healthy, even Richie (Porte) is bouncing back after a bit of illness and no doubt he'll be back for the Alps.”
Looking forward to the rest day and the Alps
Like every rider in the Tour de France peloton, Froome is looking forward to the second rest in Gap before the final mountain stages in the Alps. He will be able to enjoy his lead of 3:10 on Nairo Quintana (Movistar), with Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) third overall at 3:32 and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) fifth at 4:23.
“I think the attacks we saw today by Nibali and Valverde are a small taste of what we can expect in the next few days,” Froome said, knowing he can play his rivals off each other as they fight for places on the podium.
“When he (Nibali) went at top of the final climb today I didn't think it was crucial to close the gap to him given that there were others GC riders who need to worry about the podium before I do. We can expect him to attack at any moment in the race. I'm sure he'll attack in next few days.”
The final part of the Tour de France begins with the stage to Pra-Loup on Wednesday, the day that marked the end of Eddy Merckx's Tour de France dominance back in 1975.
“That is also another key moment,” Froome warned.
“We know the descent of the Col d'Allos will be very decisive moment in the race, though it could be different. We're two and half weeks into a Grand Tour and so energy levels are not the same as in the Dauphiné, but I think definitely expect the racing will happen on the Col d'Allos, on the descent and up the final climb to Pra-Loup.”
“Three minutes is a good margin but on a bad day you can run out of sugars, hit the wall and lose a lot of time. I'm sure the other teams will try something. We can expect some hard racing anywhere, on the climbs, descents and in the wind. We're ready for it and I think we've got the team to be ready for it.”
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