Chris Froome has admitted it must be demoralising for rival teams at the Tour de France to try and come up with a plan to unseat the Team Sky rider as leader of the race.
The Kenyan-born Briton has been immense so far and, with a buffer of 1:47 over his nearest challenger, Bauke Molleme (Trek Segafredo), the two-time winner knows he’s very much in pole position.
Of course, an untimely mechanical or a crash could turn the general classification on its head, but Froome and his loyal band of lieutenants have looked unshakeable thus far.
“I really am in such a privileged position to have such a strong team around me, possibly the strongest team that Team Sky has ever put in the Tour de France, with guys who would be leaders in other teams in their own right,” said Froome.
On Sunday and, indeed, on last Thursday’s showdown on Mont Ventoux, fans expected to see fireworks, but were treated to little more than a Tour-de-force by the likes of domestiques Woet Poels, Mikel Nieve, and Mikel Landa, who have made it all but impossible for anyone to attack their leader.
“You mentioned Wout Poels,” interrupted Froome. “He’s not just any other rider. He won Liège-Bastogne-Liège, one of the biggest classics in the world.
“I’m really fortunate to be in this position and it must be demoralising for people to have to think of attacking, knowing that this calibre of rider will be chasing them, and riding at a tempo that can neutralise their attacks.”
Yesterday’s 16th stage was a day for the sprinters and it was world champion Peter Sagan who took the honours after a photo finish.
The Tinkoff rider just pipped Norwegian Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), with the latter’s fellow countryman Sondre Holst Enger (IAM Cycling) rounding out the podium in third.
Froome was right up there, as well, in 14th, crossing the line in the same time as the stage winner, ensuring he lost no time to his closest challengers.
“I wasn’t actually up at the front those last few kilometres; it was pretty sketchy through all the towns, with lots of road furniture, lefts and rights and, obviously, over the cobbles.
“I was just trying to stay out of trouble and get to the finish as good as possible. I think everyone is quite glad there’s a rest day today, that was a tough day out there, but the team’s in fantastic shape. I don’t think we’ve ever been at this point with nine riders left. That’s a great advantage for us. The guys are doing well, the morale is high, and we have the leader’s jersey and a lot to fight for still. We’re looking forward to getting back into the mountains now.”
Ireland’s Dan Martin was also right up towards the head of affairs, crossing the line 29th in the same time to preserve ninth overall, 5:03 down on Froome.
Martin is just 2:18 off third place and, with an uphill time-trial to come on Thursday, he knows he can still challenge for that position.
The other Irishman in the race, Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18) lost more time yesterday and was 179th over the line, some 11 minutes back. He’s still last, overall, some 16 minutes behind the man above him in 182nd and his only goal now is to get to Paris.
Tomorrow is another savage day, with the riders heading from Bern in Switzerland to the summit finish of Finhaut Emosson, a 2,000m climb in the south of the country.
There are three categorised climbs en route to the finish and, at 184 kilometres, it’s another significant day, when the race leader will need to be vigilant to ensure there is not a twist in the tail.
Meanwhile, Nicolas Roche ended the week-long Tour of Poland yesterday in 26th overall, 17:42 down on overall winner Tim Wellens (Lotto-Soudal). The Team Sky rider was 27th on yesterday’s individual time-trial, almost two minutes behind stage winner Alex Dowsett (Movistar).
The Irish national road and time-trial champion will now turn his attentions to the Clasica San Sebastien on Saturday week, followed by the Olympic road race a week later.
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