Froome on target to win Tour despite energy bar penalty
It's not over yet: after a brutal Thursday, he faces two further savage stages before Paris finish
IT WAS a hell of a Thursday for the Tour de France but at the end of one of the toughest stages in the race’s 100-edition history Chris Froome had tightened his grip on the Yellow Jersey.
The 28-year-old Briton now leads Alberto Contador by a massive margin of five minutes and eleven seconds – despite the fact he was penalised 20 seconds in the final 5km of the brutal 18th stage.
Froome was hit with the time penalty on the second ascent of the Alpe d'Huez, the iconic peak that was being climbed twice in the same day for the first time in the Tour’s history.
Up until that point the race leader had battled hard to fend off concerted attacks from Contador's Saxo Tinkoff team-mates, who had set a punishing pace in the first hour of the 172.5km stage. Contador had then increased the pressure on Froome with an attack on the descent of Col de Sarenne, the treacherous mountain pass linking the two ascents of the Alpe.
At one point Contador was 20 seconds clear of Froome but the Briton clawed back the deficit on the second climb up the Alpe and its 21 hairpin bends.
However, the effort required took its toll on Froome – the first time on this Tour that he’s appeared in difficulty – and he could not stay with Nairo Quintana, the young Colombian rider who had battled with him four days earlier on Mont Ventoux.
Such was the effort required by Froome on the second climb that Sky team-mate Richie Porte dropped back to the team car to get him an energy bar. This broke Tour rules and both Porte and Froome were hit with a time penalty by race officials. Nonetheless Froome finished 57 seconds ahead of Contador to further consolidate his lead.
"It was a difficult stage," Froome admitted. "When I signalled for help, I needed sugar and I was thankful that Richie was there."
Frenchman Christophe Riblon won the stage – the first home win of this year’s race – but Froome remains within touching distance of cycling immortality. All he must do to become only the second Briton behind Bradley Wiggins to win the Tour de France is avoid any serious mishaps in the 477km before the race reaches Paris on Sunday.
With nearly 3,000km already behind him, Froome should be bursting with confidence but ahead lie two more savage stages, starting with Friday’s ascent of the Col du Glandon and Col de la Madeleine during a 205km ride from Le Bourg-d'Oisans to Le Grand-Bornand.
Froome predicts it will be “possibly the toughest day of the Tour”, a miserable prospect for him and his rivals after the agonies of Thursday.