THE Tour de France reconvenes following a rest day on Monday, July 11, with nine stages down and 12 to go in a race currently dominated by a trio of Brits.
Team Sky’s Chris Froome is sitting pretty in the yellow jersey as he attempts to seal a hat-trick of Tour wins, while 23-year-old Orica-BikeExchange rider Adam Yates holds the white jersey for best young rider, and Team Dimension Data hightailer Mark Cavendish remains in the points leaders’ green jersey.
There is not much to separate the leaders, with Froome only 16 seconds ahead of second-placed Yates, after the Kenyan-born rider fought off repeated attacks from Irishman Dan Martin and Colombian Nairo Quintana in treacherous conditions on Sunday’s 184.5-kilometre stage from Vielha Val d’Aran to Andorre Arcalis.
Martin and Quintana are just 19 and 23 seconds behind Froome, respectively, and 10 men are within 61 seconds of the leader in what promises to be an open race going forwards, although the yellow jersey may attempt to forge a decisive lead in Thursday’s precipitous Mont Ventoux stage in order to emulate his 2013 and 2015 winning performances, when he left the Pyrenees with a clear advantage.
Froome said: “Ventoux was kind to me, but when I got to the top last time I had to get straight on to oxygen support I was so tired.
“It’s a massive climb, one of the most iconic of this race and to win up there again would be unreal.
“But it’s going to be pretty hard knowing there’s a time trial the next day. It will be interesting to see who is going to go that deep for victory up there.”
British riders won five of the eight opening stages in a record-breaking first week, with Cavendish picking up three of them in a spectacular return to form for the Manx meteor, who had only picked up two stage wins in his last three tours but has now taken his overall tally to 29, the second-most ever and only five behind the legendary Eddie Merckx.
Yates, meanwhile, is riding in only his second tour, and may now look to realign his goals for the race as he finds himself in contention for a podium place, having come into the event targeting stage wins.
Movistar’s Quintana would appear to represent Froome’s main rival for the remainder of the Tour, as two-time champion Alberto Contador pulling out after 84 kilometres of stage nine with fever, the controversial Spaniard having suffered two crashes on the opening weekend.
The Colombian, twice a runner-up in this event, has been cagey thus far but must surely launch a concerted attack at some point before the race leaves the Pyrenees, as Froome’s opportunistic decision go for it on the stage eight Col de Peyresourde descent, following an altercation with a Quintana fan, having caught him out.
“I was reaching over for a water bottle to refresh myself, and Froome took advantage of this moment to attack,” Quintana said. “He went down, got away from us, and took some seconds on all of us. I hope it’s not decisive.”