Tuesday 20 February 2018

Zakarin races alone for Russian victory as Froome tightens grip

Team Katusha rider Ilnur Zakarin on the podium after winning yesterday's stage. Picture: REUTERS/Juan Medina
Team Katusha rider Ilnur Zakarin on the podium after winning yesterday's stage. Picture: REUTERS/Juan Medina

Tom Cary

It had to be Ilnur Zakarin. Of the 198 riders who started this Tour de France, the 26-year-old from Tatarstan was the only Russian.

So it was inevitable that, two days after the McLaren report alleged systemic doping and cover-ups in Russian sport, we would get the first Russian stage winner of this year's race. A former doper, too.

Zakarin is supposed to be leading Russia's road team in Rio in two-and-a-half weeks' time, so the Katusha rider's situation is particularly pertinent given the possible blanket ban on Team Russia. Like so many of his fellow athletes, he is sweating on the International Olympic Committee's decision. It did not take a genius to figure out what the line of questioning was going to be in his press conference. You had to feel for him.

After 184.5km of riding, in temperatures nudging 33C (91F), across four categorised climbs including the first-category Col de Forclaz and the brutal final 10km ramp up to the majestic Emosson Dam, he was not asked about the way he dropped his fellow breakaway companions 6.5km from the finish. He was asked about institutionalised doping in his homeland.

Perhaps it was no surprise that Zakarin had forgotten how to speak English, meaning his team manager, the Olympic triple gold medallist Viatcheslav Ekimov, was required to step in to translate. Ekimov said his rider had no idea about the McLaren report as he was spending his time reading books and watching movies, "trying to be away from all this stress".

Ekimov insisted that Zakarin - who as a 19-year-old tested positive for the anabolic steroid methandienone and was banned for two years - was now clean and that Katusha operated within WADA and International Cycling Union guidelines.

It was all a bit of a diversion from the main event, which saw Chris Froome tighten his already vice-like grip on the race. Team Sky's leader as good as won his third yellow jersey with his second place in last week's individual time trial, which put him nearly two minutes clear of his nearest rival.

Yesterday he followed an attack from Richie Porte (BMC) on the final climb, having profited from more solid work from his Sky domestiques. It was Dutchman Wout Poels who sent Froome on his way after Porte attacked. Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) could not keep up, losing 40 seconds and 28 seconds respectively on GC. All of which was excellent news for the young British rider Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), who put in a late burst to finish just eight seconds behind Froome and Porte.

The 23-year-old now lies just 26 seconds behind Mollema, who is second overall with Ireland's Dan Martin still in ninth, with just three stages remaining before Sunday's finale.

The first of those is today's 17km time trial from Sallanches to Megeve. Yates said he hoped he would "not lose too much time" in one of his weaker disciplines. (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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