Chris Froome (Team Sky) carefully controlled his nearest rivals at the Tour de France during stage 18 on the road to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. He still leads Nairo Quintana (Movistar) by more than three minutes and is ticking off the mountain stages, knowing his grip on the race leader’s yellow jersey is tightening and that the chances for his rivals reduce day by day.
Main rivals Quintana and teammate Alejandro Valverde looked happy to finish in the select front group that came in 3:02 down on lone stage winner Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale). The Movistar riders and almost every other rider in the top 10 overall are racing to defend their current placing, with Movistar also leading the team competition and with Quintana wearing the best young rider’s white jersey.
Froome again sensed their fear of risking everything and was able to control the racing thanks to another strong, consistent performance by Geraint Thomas. Froome again expressed his hopes that the Welshman can finish on the final podium with him in Paris, even if defending the yellow jersey comes first on Friday’s tough stage to La Toussuire and then on the grand finale stage to l’Alpe d’Huez on Saturday.
“We’re getting towards the end now and there are only two real racing stages to go, both quite short. So we can expect them to be hard. But I feel I’m in good shape, I’m happy compared to two years ago. Then I was hanging on. Now I feel quite good and in control,” he said during his post-stage press conference.
“I’ve got two wheels to follow at this point: Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. I hope we can finish the job now.”
Froome dismissed a suggestion that he had never come under real attack during this year’s Tour de France, as he pursues a second victory, two years after triumphing in 2013.
“Of course, every day,” he argued. “We fielded attacks from the peloton in every moment. We’ve been attacked from every angle in this Tour.”
He also dismissed he is the new patron of the Tour de France, despite dominating the race.
“I’m happy to be in this position, it’s a privileged. I’ve got a responsibility to show how the sport has changed. I’m happy to play my part in this regard. Any more that I don’t know….”
Leading the Tour de France is dream scenario, not a burden
Froome has been in yellow for 13 stages so far this year. For fellow Briton and former Team Sky leader Bradley Wiggins, the yellow weighed heavy on his shoulders. Froome insisted he does not feel the burden and pressure of responsibility, even if he has faced questions about his performances and data.
Today Froome was asked about his links to the Monaco-based doctor Stephane Bormon of the Monaco Institute of Sports Medicine and Surgery, who has also worked with several big-name riders based on Monaco. Froome said he’s seen him on a couple of occasions for pulmonary issues (he suffers from asthma) because Team Sky does not have a doctor based in the south of France.
“I definitely do not hate being in yellow. I’ve worked too hard to hate it. It’s a dream scenario,” Froome said.
“Last year watched the race with a broken hand and a broken wrist, so there’s no way I’d change anything. I suppose winning the Tour de France is like climbing Everest. But for me, my goal was not to win the Tour de France but to be the best cyclist I could be.”
Froome also revealed his respect for main rival Quintana.
“I think we’ve got mutual respect. In particular I respect the way he approaches races and tries to attack at the hardest point, that’s similar to myself and I respect that. He’s young. I’d like to think he’s doing everything right and that he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Looking forward to l’Alpe d’Huez
Froome avoided specifically saying he will target victory in the yellow jersey at l’Alpe d’Huez, stage 20 on Saturday. There is a real sense, however, that he wants to crown his Tour de France with a special victory in the yellow jersey and avenge his problems on the Alpine climb in 2013 when he suffered and was penalised for taking an energy drink from a team car.
“In the next two days it would be amazing to win another stage. But at the same time, yellow is the priority, I’m not going to kill the team chasing a break unless Quintana or Valverde are in it,” he said.
“L’Alpe d’Huez is an iconic climb and the most conic in this year’s Tour. It’s also the last challenge before the final stage to Paris. I think we can expect to see a big finale in the Tour de France. We’ve done harder climbs in this Tour de France but I’d like a settle a record with the past. I had a tough time in 2013 when I hit the wall. It’s going to be a tough day, I hope I don’t see a repeat of 2013 up there.”