CHORGES, France (VN) — The Spanish armada is finding wind in its sails just as the Tour de France turns into what should be a to-the-wire battle in three days across the Alps.
Chris Froome (Sky) looks to have an insurmountable lead of 4:34 over Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), but the Spanish riders are hitting form just as they promised they would in time for final shootout.
But is it too little, too late?
Froome said he’s not losing any sleep over the late surge presented from Contador, Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) or Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who is linking up with Colombian teammate Nairo Quintana.
“Well, not really,” Froome said when asked about the pressing Spanish charge. “I actually extended my advantage to them. I know the Spanish guys are not going to stop racing. I get a feeling the Spanish guys are racing absolutely full gas every day. They’re not going to slow down because I have an advantage of four minutes.”
Despite the odds, the Spanish riders vow to fight all the way to Paris.
First among them is Contador, who came within nine seconds of winning Wednesday’s time trial. Of course, that’s more time ceded to Froome, but Contador and Saxo teammate Roman Kreuziger moved into second and third, respectively.
“We’ll see what happens in the coming days. Today is a boost to the morale, but Froome clearly is very strong,” Contador said. “To be in second doesn’t change much, because I want to climb to the top. The most important is that I am feeling good. I have to attack, and Froome looks strong, but I have a strong team at my disposal.”
Movistar is also excited about the performance of both Valverde and Quintana in the time trial, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
The team is poised to uncork attacks up l’Alpe d’Huez, with the idea of winning the stage and moving Quintana within podium range.
“I am feeling better as the race moves along, and tomorrow will be a very important day,” Quintana said. “Tomorrow is the stage that favors me the most. I will give everything for my team and my country in these three days before Paris.”
After losing 10 minutes in stage 13, Valverde promises to play the role of joker, attacking to set up Quintana or to take aim for the stage.
Katusha’s Rodríguez probably rode the best time trial of his Tour career, stopping the clock in the third-fastest time on the day to climb into sixth overall. The podium remains a dream.
“Every day I am feeling better, and we are ready to attack in the Alps,” Rodríguez said. “These stages are ideal for me. Anything can still happen. The gaps are large, but these three remaining stages are brutal.”
Froome will be keeping an eye on Contador, a rider who is accustomed to winning grand tours and who has the capability to pack a surprise.
Contador and Kreuziger rattled Froome in Tuesday’s stage, and promise to try again in the Alps.
“Alberto has shown time and again he is not a rider who gives up, even though he is four minutes behind,” Froome said. “He is a racer who will keep fighting, so I expect him to fight all the way to Paris.”
A fight for the podium, however, will help Froome consolidate his grip on the yellow jersey.
“Right now the priority is defend the yellow jersey,” Froome said. “It is not just the Spanish. There are Dutch, a Czech, and a Colombian. I will be watching all of them.”