Tue, Jul 19, 2016 - Page 16 News List

Froome tames rivals, Pantano wins stage

AP, CULOZ, France

Team Sky’s Chris Froome of Britain competes in the 15th stage of the Tour de France between Bourg-en-Bresse and Culoz, France, on Sunday.

Photo: EPA

When his rivals tried to unsettle the Tour de France leader on 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 of Astana, Alejandro Valverde of Movistar and Romain Bardet of AG2R La Mondiale on the final climb of Sunday’s 15th stage of the Tour left the British champion unfazed.

“I was in control,” Froome said 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 of IAM Cycling, but the cheeky move spoke volumes about his supremacy at cycling’s biggest event.

Aside from his crash on Mont Ventoux due to a motorbike incident last week, Froome has been enjoying a quiet and effective two weeks.

Ahead of the final week of racing in the Alps, Froome kept his 1 minute, 47 second lead over Dutch rider Bauke Mollema of Trek-Segafredo intact, with Adam Yates of Orica-BikeExchange in third place overall, 2:45 back. Colombian climber Nairo Quintana of Movistar was 2:59 behind in fourth.

“When it looked [like] Quintana was going to attack, he [Froome] threw a little dummy attack in and that just quietened everybody down,” said BMC Racing Team’s Richie Porte, who was seventh overall, 4:27 back.

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

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,” Froome 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 the lost ground.

“Sky were very strong yet again and they really made it hard for us,” Valverde said. “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.”

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

Majka, who started the breakaway soon after the start of the 160km stage in Bourg-en-Bresse, moved away on his own in the final of six climbs of the day. A third-placed finisher at the Vuelta a Espana last year, he accelerated on the punishing 8.4km final climb to drop Pantano, but he made a mistake on the descent and allowed his rival to rejoin him.

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

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