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.

Quintana reclaims pink jersey with 2 stages to go in Giro

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PIANCAVALLO, Italy — Nairo Quintana reclaimed the pink jersey from Tom Dumoulin with two stages to go in the Giro d’Italia on Friday, setting up what could be a tense finale in Milan on Sunday.

Dumoulin couldn’t keep up with his main rivals in the final uphill finish of the three-week race and trails Quintana, the 2014 winner from Colombia, by 38 seconds.

Two-time winner Vincenzo Nibali is third overall, 43 seconds behind Quintana.

With Thibaut Pinot of France fourth overall, 53 seconds back, the top four are grouped within less than a minute.

“It’s pretty complicated. We have to adapt the strategy day-by-day,” Quintana said.

Spanish rider Mikel Landa won the 19th stage in a breakaway, finally tasting victory after two second-place finishes and one third-place result.

Landa required nearly five hours to complete the 191-kilometer (119-mile) route from San Candido to Piancavallo. He finished nearly two minutes ahead of Rui Costa, with Stage 17 winner Pierre Rolland crossing third.

On Thursday, Dumoulin criticized the tactics of Quintana and Nibali, saying they were merely racing to make him lose – remarks that earned a sharp rebuke from Nibali.

Before Friday’s stage, Dumoulin apologized to Nibali and the pair shook hands.

If anything, Dumoulin’s comments appeared to have motivated Quintana and Nibali, who temporarily dropped Dumoulin on a downhill section midway through Friday’s stage.

While the Dutchman caught up on the ensuing Sella Chianzutan climb, he didn’t have the legs to keep up on the 15.4-kilometer climb to Piancavallo, which began at an average gradient of nearly 10 percent.

“I had bad legs from the start and I made a rookie mistake at the beginning, sitting at the back of the bunch on the downhill,” Dumoulin said.

“In the final I tried to limit my losses and I did that very well. My team saved me a couple of times, so I have to thank them. Otherwise it would have been a much worse day. Bad legs today, but I hope they’ll be better tomorrow.”

Quintana wore pink for one day after winning Stage 9. Dumoulin then took control by dominating a time trial in Stage 10 and had led ever since.

Quintana has also finished on the Tour de France podium three times.

The penultimate stage on Saturday is the last mountainous leg, a 190-kilometer (118-mile) route from Pordenone to Asiago featuring two first-category climbs – a long 24-kilometer ascent to Monte Grappa and a shorter but steeper 14-kilometer rise to Foza.

The 100th Giro ends on Sunday with an individual time trial from Monza to Milan.

“Tomorrow there will be another important stage and then I’ll give it all in the time trial,” Quintana said.

Lance Armstrong announces engagement to Hansen

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AUSTIN, Texas — Cyclist Lance Armstrong has announced his engagement to longtime partner Anna Hansen.

The couple has been together nearly a decade and have two children. Armstrong announced Wednesday on social media that he’d popped the question and posted a picture of the two of them on a boat on Lake Austin.

Armstrong was previously married to the former Kristin Richard, with whom he has three children. He also was previously engaged to singer Sheryl Crow before his relationship with Hansen.

Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times from 1999-2005 but those titles were later stripped away after revelations of performance-enhancing drug use.