Froome tames his rivals in mountain stage at Tour de France

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CULOZ, France — When his rivals tried to unsettle the Tour de France leader in the punishing Lacets du Grand Colombier, Chris Froome just kept calm and carried on.

On a tough day through the Jura mountains featuring hardly any flat stretches, attacks from Fabio Aru, Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet on the final climb of Sunday’s 15th stage of the Tour left the British champion unfazed.

“I was in control,” Froome summed up at the finish.

So much in control that the Team Sky leader even teased his opponents, suddenly jumping out of the group of favorites near the summit in a fake attack, before stopping his move.

“I just wanted to get a feeling for how the group was, and who was reacting and who to look out for,” Froome said. “What reaction I would get, who would be looming to follow me?”

Froome’s short acceleration had no impact and the group crossed the finish line together, slightly more than three minutes behind stage winner Jarlinson Pantano.

But the cheeky move spoke volumes about his current supremacy at cycling’s biggest event. Aside from his crash in the Mont Ventoux due to a motorbike incident last week, Froome has been enjoying a quiet and effective fortnight.

Ahead of the final week of racing in the Alps, Froome kept his 1:47 lead over Dutch rider Bauke Mollema intact, with Adam Yates in third place overall, 2:45 back. Colombian climber Nairo Quintana lags 2:59 behind in fourth.

“When it looked Quintana was going to attack, he (Froome) threw a little dummy attack in and that just quietened everybody down,” said Richie Porte, who sits in seventh overall, 4:27 back.

Although Froome’s rivals tried their luck in the final ascent, none of them was able to create a gap as Froome’s lieutenants Woet Poels and Mikel Nieve did not panic, pulling their leader on the serpentine climb without losing any ground.

And when Quintana tried to accelerate after another attack from Bardet on the descent, once again the Sky riders shut down the move.

“Coming to the Tour, I said I was in a very privileged position because it was the strongest team that Team Sky ever sent to the Tour,” Froom said. “With me, I have riders who would be leaders in other teams. It must be quite demoralizing for other riders.”

Quintana and Mollema have four Alpine stages next week to make up for the lost ground.

“Sky were very strong yet again and they really made it hard for us,” said Valverde, who rides with Quintana at Movistar. “We’re going to try to do our best in the coming week. We’re definitely going to try something. I think people are expecting more fire and fight from us. We will fight in the coming stages.”

Pantano, a Colombian rider with the IAM team, posted the most important win of his career after a long breakaway, outsprinting Polish rider Rafal Majka to the finish line.

Majka, who started the breakaway soon after the start of the 160-kilometer (99-mile) trek in Bourg-en-Bresse, moved away on his own in the final of six climbs on the day’s agenda. A third-place finisher at the Spanish Vuelta last year, he accelerated in the punishing 8.4-kilometer climb to drop Pantano. But Majka made a mistake on the descent and allowed his rival to rejoin him.

The pair did not collaborate well on the flat roads to the finish, with Majka reluctant to take his share of the work. They were almost caught by Frenchman Alexis Vuillermoz, who finished third, six seconds back.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Pantano. “I had good feelings today, I knew that if I was able to join him on the downhill I had good chances. And in the end the best rider won.”

On a hot and sunny day, Majka and Ilnur Zakarin attacked on the first climb and a group of 30 riders gathered at the front. With no overall contender in the leading pack, Froome and his teammates did not chase.

On a constantly undulating course, Dutch rider Dylan van Baarle tried his luck soon after the feed zone but was quickly joined by Tom Dumoulin, who countered him in the Cote d’Hotonnes. The move sparked a reaction from former Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali, who jumped out of the chasing group alongside Pantano and Vuillermoz.

The group was caught at the foot of the grueling ascent of the Grand Colombier, with the peloton of main favorites 8:30 back. Featuring some steep slopes at an average gradient of 6.8 percent, the 12.8-kilometer climb was too much to take for Nibali, who immediately got dropped.

Majka and Zakarin once again accelerated and reached the summit with a 30-second lead over Julian Alaphilippe, who caught his rivals in the technical downhill to Anglefort but saw his hopes of victory destroyed by a crash. The Frenchman escaped unscathed and was back in the race with a spare bike.

Back in the pack of favorites, Astana riders moved to the front to set a faster tempo. The sudden change in pace left Froome unfazed while Yates was seen struggling at the back. American Tejay van Garderen could not follow and dropped to eighth overall, 4:47 behind Froome.

Monday’s 209-kilometer (130-mile) stage takes the peloton from Moirans-en-Montagne to Bern in Switzerland.

Little boy goes wild watching dad in Tour de France

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Bauke Mollema wasn’t the only one putting on a show at the Tour de France.

Mollema received plenty of support back home as his son went absolutely crazy watching his “papa” push to victory in Stage 15. As it is with siblings, Mollema’s oldest son, Julian, was forced to share the spot light as Thomas got emotional watching his dad finally earn a coveted stage win.

Amidst the blood, sweat and tears that have made up the 2017 Tour de France, Mollema’s adorable 2-year-old son, Thomas gave the internet something to smile about.

The Tour de France has “always been the most important race for [Mollema]” and his dreams came true when he had an impressive break away to solidify the first stage win of his career.

Clearly, Mollema was not the only one excited for his first victory.

 

Cavendish involved in nasty crash after elbow from Sagan

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VITTEL, France (AP) A nasty crash involving Mark Cavendish marred Tuesday’s fourth stage of the Tour de France, which was won by France’s Arnaud Demare in a chaotic sprint finish.

Replays appeared to show world champion Peter Sagan elbowing Cavendish, who was squeezed against the barriers to his right, out of the way. Cavendish slammed into the barriers and two other riders plowed over the British sprint specialist, a winner of 30 Tour stages.

Sagan, who crossed the line second, was later given a 30-second penalty that relegated him to 115th place on the stage. As a result, he dropped from second place in the overall standings to 15th.

“I get on with Peter well, but I don’t get … if he came across is one thing, but the elbow. I’m not a fan of him putting his elbow in me like that,” Cavendish said.

“A crash is a crash, I’d just like to know about the elbow, really,” Cavendish added. “I’d just like to speak to him about it.”

After the crash, Sagan went over to see how Cavendish was and patted him on the back, while the British rider showed him his wounds.

The Slovak said later he had apologized to Cavendish.

“It’s not nice to crash like that,” Sagan said.

“It’s the sprint. I just didn’t know that Mark is behind me, he’s coming from the right side,” Sagan added. “Mark was coming pretty fast from the back and after I just didn’t have time to react, to go left, and he just came (into) me and after into the fence.”

A medical team quickly ran out to treat Cavendish, jogging into the oncoming stream of riders to reach him.

When Cavendish was finally helped to his feet, his jersey was badly torn and blood was streaking down his side. Cavendish rode in with a teammate after treatment, gingerly holding his right arm close to his body, with his right hand in a bandage.

It’s already been a difficult year for Cavendish, who came down with mononucleosis caused by the Epstein-Barr virus in April.

Demare’s sprint victory ended a long wait for the home fans, with the previous French victory in a bunch sprint at the Tour being won by Jimmy Casper in Stage 1 in Strasbourg in 2006.

“It’s extraordinary, it’s marvelous,” said Demare, the French champion who finished second to Marcel Kittel in the mass sprint that concluded Stage 2.

There was another crash earlier that delayed Tour leader Geraint Thomas, but the Welshman retained the yellow jersey since it happened in the neutral zone near the stage finish.

Thomas leads Sky teammate and three-time champion Chris Froome by 12 seconds, with third-place Michael Matthews of Australia also 12 seconds back. Sagan is now 43 seconds adrift.

Thomas scraped his knee but said it was OK.

“I hit the deck but I’m fine,” Thomas said.

Demare clocked nearly five hours over the largely flat 207.5-kilometer (129-mile) route, which started and finished in two spa towns, Mondorf-les-Bains in Luxembourg and Vittel in France.

“We’ve been working with Arnaud for a long time on sprints,” said Marc Madiot, manager of Demare’s FDJ team. “Winning in the Tour is the best.”

After Sagan’s penalty, Alexander Kristoff moved up to second place in the stage, with Andre Greipel in third.

After starting in Mondorf, the hometown of 2010 Tour winner Andy Schleck, one of the first towns along the route was Schengen, where an agreement was signed in 1985 that enabled passport-free travel in mainland Europe.

Then it was a long, fairly straight slog through fields of grain, passing near the medieval city of Nancy into Vittel, home of the official mineral water supplier for the Tour.

It was the race’s third consecutive stage of more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) and when Guillaume van Keirsbulck, a Belgian with the Wanty team, attacked from the starting gun there was no reaction from the pack.

Van Keirsbulck quickly built a lead of more than seven minutes before being caught with less than 17 kilometers to go.

“A really hard day,” Van Keirsbulck said. “It’s not easy to stay in the front.”

Stage 5 on Wednesday concludes with the first serious climb of the Tour. The 160.5-kilometer (100-mile) leg begins in Vittel and winds its way to La Planche Des Belles Filles with a short but steep finishing ascent that features a leg-breaking 20-percent gradient in the final meters. All of the overall favorites should swing into action.