Mon, Jul 11, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Froome takes overall lead

NY Times News Service, BAGNERES de LUCHON, France

Chris Froome nears the finish of eighth stage of the Tour de France in Bagneres-de-Luchon, France, on Saturday.

Photo: AFP

Chris Froome, the defending Tour de France champion, is known for his ability to climb mountains swiftly and race against the stopwatch in time trials with similar speed.

On Saturday’s 184km trip through the high mountains of the Pyrenees, Froome displayed another skill: descending at a high speed. His solo plunge down a mountain to the finish line was not always pretty, but it won him both the eighth stage and, with that, the race leader’s maillot jaune.

It was the fifth stage win this year by a British rider.

Froome’s British team, Sky, prides itself in mixing science and business school management methods. That sometimes leaves it open to criticism that it races in an excessively controlled and planned way.

However, Froome said that the decision to launch the first downhill attack of his career was spontaneous.

The fifth and final climb of the day scaled the Col de Peyresourde. Though a comparatively short 7.1km, its grade is relentless and averages an unusually steep 7.8 percent.

Toward the top, Sky followed their usual script for a mountain stage. Froome’s Colombian teammate, Sergio Henao, attacked near the top, mainly to see how the competition would respond.

Froome then attacked.

“I could see the guys were coming with me,” he said.

It was mainly one guy, Nairo Quintana, a Colombian who rides for the Movistar team and who appears to be Froome’s greatest threat this year. Other favorites, particularly former winner Alberto Contador of Spain, struggled.

It was not until Froome attacked over the top that he escaped.

“I’m really glad I did take that risk and it really paid off,” he said. “It just really takes you back to being a kid again.”

At several points down the descent he appeared to approach the brink of disaster. The effect was exaggerated by his decision to sit on the forward part of the top tube of his bicycle for aerodynamic gain. The technique, while not recommended to the faint of heart or the inexperienced, is common enough at the Tour.

In his bid to get away, Froome added the extra twist of frantically pedaling. While his method was successful, the gangly Froome resembled someone doing a variation of the chicken dance on a bicycle.

Geraint Thomas, another Sky rider, said that while the world had never previously witnessed Froome vigorously attacking downhill, it was a common occurrence during the team’s training rides.

“He takes bigger risks than that in training, so I’m not surprised,” Thomas said. “He’s a bit of nut case when it comes to that.”

Thomas also offered a highly qualified defense of his team leader’s descending skill.

“He’s always been able to descend fast, he’s just a bit wobbly and he doesn’t look too good,” Thomas said.

Froome finished 13 seconds ahead of a group stuffed with potential challengers, including Quintana; American Tejay van Garderen of BMC; and BMC’s co-leader, Australian Richie Porte, previously Froome’s lieutenant at Sky.

Froome holds the overall lead by a 16-second margin over young British rider Adam Yates, who rides for Orica-BikeExchange team.

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