Friday 23 February 2018

Froome furious after near miss almost ends Tour dream

Race leader's yellow jersey holder Team Sky rider Christopher Froome
Race leader's yellow jersey holder Team Sky rider Christopher Froome

Ian Parker

Chris Froome saw his Tour de France dreams flash before his eyes in a near-miss on the descent into Gap today.

While Rui Costa raced to a solo stage win ahead, Alberto Contador was attacking Froome so hard the Spaniard came off his bike on the way down the Col de Manse - a road that has seen its fair share of Tour drama over the years - and Froome had to veer off into the verge to avoid going over himself.

Froome accused the Spaniard of riding dangerously and admitted he feared it would be worse.

"One second you can be going for the finish and about to win a race, and the next moment you're lying in a ditch somewhere with broken bones," Froome said.

"Nothing is guaranteed in cycling."

Contador, a two-time Tour winner, said yesterday he has no interest in a runners-up spot and the extent of the risks he is willing to take to wrestle the yellow jersey from Froome was clear today.

"He was pushing the limits too far and he took himself down in front of me which also put me as risk," Froome said.

"I had to go off the road for a second to try and get around him.

"I didn't really come off, I just had to reclip into my bike and get going again. I don't think it was necessary to take those kinds of risks."

A largely uneventful stage 16 - dominated by a 26-strong breakaway - had been notable only for a train delaying the peloton at a level crossing until they came to the category two Col de Manse.

After the breakaway split and Costa got away to win comfortably, the real drama took place when the overall contenders began their ascent.

Contador and his team-mate Roman Kreuziger took it in turns to attack Froome, and at one point succeeded in dropping Richie Porte to isolate the yellow jersey, although the Tasmanian soon got back to his team-mate - something that would prove critical after Froome's near-miss.

This was the road where Joseba Beloki crashed on melting tarmac while battling Lance Armstrong for the yellow jersey in the 2003 Tour - effectively ending his career at the highest level.

Beloki had been invited back by the Tour but declined, still haunted by the incident, and although there was no repeat - local authorities even doused the road with water to avert the risk of the surface breaking up in the heat - there was a clear reminder of the dangers.

"I knew this was the descent where Beloki crashed and I was laying off a little, trying to take it easy, but at the same time I had to keep in touch with Saxo-Tinkoff pushing the limits," Froome said.

While Contador picked himself up and Froome got back on the tarmac, Bauke Mollema - Froome's closest challenger four minutes and 14 seconds back and 11 seconds ahead of Contador - was racing away in a group with Nairo Quintana.

Porte led Froome back but there were further flashpoints - Froome gesturing to Contador to contribute to the chase as he followed behind - and the Spaniard giving Quintana an ironic thumbs up for not slowing the pace after their crash.

While tempers had been frayed, Froome was glad to escape without any lasting scars.

"The road surface was quite bumpy all the way down and there were a few little wobbles," he said.

"I was happy to get to the end without doing any damage."

However, Sky know this is likely only the start as Contador and others try to find a way to claw back time on Froome with the days ticking down before Paris.

"I saw a kitchen sink being thrown at us," Porte said.

"It made sense that they were going to attack. It was a hard start and we expected they would try something on that last climb and descent.

"They have to try something now and hats off to them. They were good today, the Tour's not over yet and they are going to keep riding aggressively."

Froome is ready for that, but is hoping his rivals can keep a cool head as the race hots up.

"I think teams are starting to get desperate now," he said. "They are going to take uncalculated risks."

Contador defended his actions and said he would keep pushing all the way.

"For me there is no motivation to be calm and sit on their wheel in the bunch," he said.

"Whenever I see there is a chance, I'll try, either at the beginning or the end of a race, and we'll see what the result is in Paris."

Although Sky coped with everything thrown at them today, Contador promised further entertainment for those watching on.

He said: "They have been very attentive and we have not been able to make a difference, but my legs are getting better and I hope I can provide a spectacle.

"I don't know if we'll win or not, but I hope the people watching TV will enjoy it."

Press Association

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