Wednesday 13 November 2019

Froome closing in on fourth crown

Britain's Chris Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, rides during the nineteenth stage of the Tour de France Photo: AP Photo/Christophe Ena
Britain's Chris Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, rides during the nineteenth stage of the Tour de France Photo: AP Photo/Christophe Ena

Alastair Fotheringham

This afternoon the Tour de France peloton and race leader Chris Froome will tackle the last major obstacle between the Briton and a fourth overall title, a short but severely technical time trial in Marseille.

The sight of Froome in yellow has become a familiar one since he won his first Tour in 2013, and the Sky rider is one of the favourites for today's stage win.

However, the comparatively small time gaps between the leading riders means that a fourth title cannot yet be taken for granted.

Froome's scant lead on Romain Bardet, last year's runner-up, is just 23 seconds whilst Rigoberto Urán, the Colombian challenger, is only 29 seconds behind.

The 32-year-old Briton starts the last time trial in control of the Tour, but even the most minor of crashes, a mechanical or a puncture could see Froome suffer cycling's equivalent of falling at the final fence.

Should Froome win or dominate today's race against the clock, though, with only one largely ceremonial stage in Paris remaining tomorrow, another Tour title would be his in all but name.

Victory this weekend would make Froome just one of five riders ever to win four or more Tours, and just one short of the all-time record of five, held equally by Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Miguel Indurain and Bernard Hinault.

Starting and finishing in the legendary Stade Vélodrome football stadium, today's time trial course is only 22 kilometres long and run off entirely through the well-surfaced streets of central Marseille. But its sharply contrasting segments are what could make it difficult.

Largely flat, mid-stage; a short but very steep one-kilometre climb past the Notre-Dame de la Garde cathedral will make it complicated for riders to gauge their effort - and at the end of an arduous three-week Tour, even more so.

Of Froome's two closest rivals, Urán and Bardet, the Colombian is by far the more accomplished time triallist. The winner in 2014 of a long time trial in the Giro d'Italia and twice second overall in the Italian Grand Tour - apart from when he out-sprinted Froome and Bardet at Chambery, Urán has doggedly shadowed the two pre-race favourites for three weeks.

With focus on the time trial, the leaders had a relatively quiet stage during yesterday's mammoth 222.5km trek to Salon-de-Provence, won in a solo late attack by Team Dimension Data's Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen.

Irish Independent

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