Geraint Thomas tightened his grip on the Tour de France lead as Chris Froome’s hopes of a fourth successive title all but disappeared in the Pyrenees yesterday.
It was a brutal day for the defending champion, who started stage 17 in second place overall, but finished in third, two minutes and 31 seconds behind Thomas.
In between the two British riders is Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin, who trails Thomas by a minute and 59 seconds, after he tried and failed to break the Welshman on the final five kilometres of a short but savage 65km stage.
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No risk strategy
Instead, it was Thomas who finished the stronger of the pair, ahead of his nearest rivals but behind stage winner Nairo Quintana and Irishman Daniel Martin.
“I didn’t want to risk anything, which was why I left it as late as possible,” said Thomas, when asked about his strategy. “Especially at altitude, as soon as you kick and go deep for five seconds, it can bite you in the arse. So I didn’t want to risk anything. It was about just leaving it as late as possible and then going for the line and trying to get the seconds.”
He did just that, extending his overall lead by 20 seconds and taking him ever more closer to claiming his first Tour title in Paris on Sunday.
“I think I am in a good position now,” said Thomas. “But I am not going to change my approach. As soon as you start getting carried away that’s when it goes downhill… I am feeling good but I am not going to get carried away, keep fuelling and eating and drinking as best as I can and just not let any complacency creep in.”
For most of the stage Froome and Thomas rode side by side in the peloton, but as they climbed the third of three towering peaks in quick succession, the Col du Portet, Froome began to falter.
“Froomey said on the radio maybe with four or five kilometres to go that he wasn’t feeling super and that gave me confidence,” admitted Thomas. “Because if Froomey was suffering, everyone was suffering. And I was feeling good… It was a tough start to the climb, and everyone was on the limit. But as the climb went on I was feeling better and better.”
Thomas said while he didn’t like seeing Froome having “a bad day”, he nonetheless took heart from the four-time champion’s troubles. “It shows we’re honest with each other,” said Thomas. “We genuinely are good mates and honest and open. I think that’s the main reason for our success so far at this Tour.”
Mellow about yellow
Froome, whose day went from bad to worse when he was accidentally knocked off his bike by a policeman at the end of the stage, admitted it had been “very intense”.
But despite his personal disappointment, he pledged his loyalty to his Team Sky buddy.
“G has ridden such an amazing race and he deserves to be in yellow – and, fingers crossed, he holds it now until Paris,” said Froome. “That’s what a team is all about. I’m happy just to be in this position. I’ve won the last three Grand Tours I’ve done now, so it’s certainly been tough build-up for me but I’m still going to try and fight for the podium and try to keep G up there in yellow.”
Today’s 18th stage of the Tour de France is a 171km route from Trie-sur-Baise to Pau.
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