Froome one step closer to glory
Tour de France leader keeps rivals at bay with just one more stage in the mountains to negotiate
The riders in action during stage 19 of the Tour de France from Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornand. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images
Alberto Contador has aged in the last three weeks. Here in Le Grand Bornand he had a distinct air of resignation as he surveyed his prospects after the stage.
He had had been preparing his team for an attack. His legs had felt good at one point. He had decided to drop the plan to put Chris Froome under pressure. He had gone carefully down the descents so as not to worry those watching back at home. Attacking today? It would depend on his legs. He did not say it was all over bar the shouting but hinted as much.
There is bound to be at least one final frisson somewhere in the tortuous 125-kilometre loop between Annecy and the summit of the Semnoz climb today but over yesterday’s five climbs, Contador and the other riders who were capable of staying at the front on day three in the Alps now seem largely interested in the minor prizes.
While Nairo Quintana is happily ensconced in the white jersey of best young rider and Peter Sagan is all set to be crowned points winner for the second year running, there is plenty else up for grabs.
Today, en route to the daunting Semnoz, the precise order of the top 10 places – behind Froome, that is – remains to be decided, with Contador, Quintana, the Czech Roman Kreuziger and Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez separated by 47seconds in the fight for second overall.
As Froome pointed out after yesterday’s stage, he is unlikely to lose over five minutes in one stage of just over 75 miles.
The King of the Mountains prize is also undecided and there are three squads in contention for the team standings, which are based on the cumulative times of an outfit’s three best riders each day of the race.
The only flurry of attacks within Froome’s and Contador’s group came at the top of the last of the five climbs, the Col du Croix Fry, by which time the heavens had opened.
Contador stayed put, however, and the only escape which had any impact was from Alejandro Valverde, whos has now risen to ninth. For Froome it was as uncomplicated as he could have hoped for.
The stage win was contested by a large group that formed early on, as the race climbed the Col du Glandon, not so much an escape as a mass breakout.
With the first French stage victory safely out of the way, thanks to Christophe Riblon at L’Alpe d’Huez, attention turned to the King of the Mountains jersey.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland, could not resist the lure of the points on offer over the five climbs, including two super-category monsters, and he duly sprang away at the foot of the Glandon with 159km to cover.
He led for the next 140 kilometres the Portuguese Alberto Rui Costa went past the Frenchman at high speed for a repeat of his stage win of Tuesday in Gap.
Insult was added to injury for Rolland when the riders’ scores were totted up for the measled vest and he was revealed to be a point behind Chris Froome.
A King of the Mountains victory make Froome the first man to win yellow and red-on-white since Eddy Merckx in 1970. History beckons the quiet Kenyan, as it did Bradley Wiggins 12 months ago.