Friday 23 February 2018

Froome predicts intense battle as Ventoux looms

Chris Froome. Photo: Reuters
Chris Froome. Photo: Reuters

Tom Cary

Chris Froome believes today's Bastille Day stage to Mont Ventoux will be "even more intense" after organisers took the decision to cancel the final 6km of the iconic climb due to 100kmh (60mph) winds.

Froome, who took a further 12 seconds out of his nearest rivals for the yellow jersey thanks to his unexpected second place in Montpellier yesterday, predicted that the riders would simply attack from the foot of the climb rather than wait for the race to hit the exposed area above the tree line.

"To be honest, I don't really think it changes too much," Froome (below) said of the decision. "The climb up to Chalet Reynard (where the stage will now finish) is extremely hard already. It's another 200km-plus stage. A lot of wind is predicted. It could even be split before we reach the climb. But if anything I think it's going to be an even more intense race once we do hit the climb, because it's slightly shorter."

Dave Brailsford, Team Sky's principal, conceded that the decision to cut the last section of the climb was a "shame" - particularly for fans who have been camping at the summit for days - but he too said that it might just serve to spice things up.

"It's a shame actually for it to be shortened," he said. "Because it's one of the most iconic days in the Tour de France. And I think it will make a difference [to how the stage is ridden]. If it's as windy as it's predicted to be, the first 100km, just getting to the bottom of the climb, it's like a proper crosswind … if that's the case it will be a case of who gets to the bottom of the climb where and then we'll see what happens. But we have a fantastic day's racing. It's exciting."

Mont Ventoux - which literally means 'windy mountain' - is infamous in cycling, not only for its rocky scree 'moonscape' slopes above Chalet Reynard, but for having claimed the life of the British rider Tom Simpson in 1967. The former world champion collapsed and died near the summit. A post-mortem found he had amphetamines and alcohol in his system. Yesterday marked the 49th anniversary of Simpson's death and the shortened stage denies riders the chance to pay their respects as they pass his memorial 1km from the end.

Froome, who won on Ventoux in 2013 en route to the overall win, said he would still try to take the stage victory today, but he warned that he would also be attempting to keep something in the tank for tomorrow's 37.5km time trial from Bourg-Saint-Andéol to La Caverne du Pont d'Arc.

"To win on top of Ventoux - well not on the top, but halfway up - really is something special," he said. "But certainly at the back of all of our minds will be the time trial the next day.

"Whoever goes really deep on Ventoux will pay the price the next day. Like any consecutive GC day you have to be thinking about the day after. Maybe some of my rivals are approaching it differently. Maybe they will want to take maximum time on Ventoux and then hang on in the time trial. Let's see.

"But my (tactic) is certainly to keep something back for the time trial the next day."

Yesterday, on a day that was predicted to be one for the sprinters, Peter Sagan used his superior turn of speed to outsprint Froome for a deserved stage victory. The gap between Froome and the peloton was only six seconds. But with bonus seconds on the line as well it meant Froome took 12 seconds out of his nearest rivals for the maillot jaune.

The two-time champion now leads fellow Briton Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) by 28 seconds, Ireland's Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) by 31 seconds, and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) by 35 seconds in the overall standings.

Tour de France, live, TG4, 1.10 /ITV4, 2.0 / Eurosport 1, 1.15

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