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"I’m in good shape and happy with how I’m feeling. I was struggling a bit at this point two years ago whereas this time around I’m much more confident. I’ve only got Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde to real...

Photo: A.S.O.








23.07.2015 @ 18:18 Posted by Andy Pedersen

Chris Froome held firm on stage 18 of the Tour de France as Team Sky emerged from another tough day in the Alps with the race lead intact.


Once again the Brit’s nearest rivals looked to launch attacks on a mountainous parcours, with Alberto Contador, Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana all trying to distance the yellow jersey across the Col du Glandon.


That didn’t happen, with Froome responding to each move with the help of his Team Sky team-mates to finish safely in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, holding his advantage of three minutes and 10 seconds.


On a day which featured no less than seven categorised climbs, Team Sky looked to control the pace on the approach to the infamous Glandon and its 21.7km face.


Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) was the first to accelerate, 8km from the summit, but drew no reaction from the team, with Nicolas Roche continuing to set an impressive tempo on the front. Both Nibali and Quintana looked to jump next, but with Geraint Thomas and Leopold König in tow the GC group came back together on the descent.


With a stalemate forming on the spectacular switchbacks of Lacets de Montvernier, Froome and Thomas were able to sit in the group until the finish in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.


That allowed Thomas to hold on to a fantastic fourth place, 6:34 back, as the group finished just over three minutes back on the day’s winner.


The stage again played into the hands of a breakaway and out of the 29 men who pushed on up the road it was Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) who proved strongest, taking a popular solo win by 33 seconds.



Podium duties completed Froome again pronounced himself happy with the day as another tough test was ticked off.


He said: "I always had team-mates with me today and they all rode really well. That makes my job a lot easier – when they’re so strong like that. We always had the situation under control today. We’re getting towards the end now, with two short mountain stages left, but it’s still going to be hard. I’m in good shape and happy with how I’m feeling. I was struggling a bit at this point two years ago whereas this time around I’m much more confident. I’ve only got Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde to really look out for now.


"Geraint’s ridden a fantastic race. If you think back to the first week, with the crosswinds and the cobbles, he was right there, and again that second week in the Pyrenees. It would be the dream for us to have two riders on the podium in Paris, but the yellow jersey is our main focus and that has to come first.


"Tomorrow is a critical stage which such a difficult start in the morning. The Tour is really evolving with so many races within the race with teams going after other jerseys and looking to defend their own GC positions. A lot of riders will want to get in the breakaway but I’m sure we’ll keep hold of things and we’re all want to finish the job off.


"There are a few races within the race, like Rodriguez going up the road for the King of the Mountains. Riders who are eighth or ninth overall put their team at the front of the bunch to defend their position. It works well for us.


"Having Geraint Thomas in fourth position is a dream scenario. Quintana and Valverde ride more conservatively because if they go for all or nothing, they risk losing their place on the podium, so we're just focused on those two riders.


"I'm in a good shape. I'm in a better shape than two years ago. I'm quite confident that I'm in control of the situation. There are two really hard stages to do. I hope to come through those two stages with no problem.


"To win a stage would be amazing but at this point I'm not going to kill my team-mates for a stage win. The yellow jersey remains the priority.


"It'll be my first time climbing l'Alpe d'Huez with a Dutchman, Wout Poels, in the team. His family and friends will be there in the Dutch corner. It'll be our last challenge. We can expect a grand finale. We've done harder climbs than l'Alpe d'Huez during this Tour de France but that's a mythical one. I hope I won't repeat what happened two years ago when I hit the wall with hungerflat.


"Before that, in tomorrow's stage, it'll be my first time climbing the col de Chaussy. On the other hand, I know La Toussuire very well. It's hard climb! It's a bit easier at the end but I expect Movistar to attack me with 4 or 5km to go."


"Things worked out perfect today,” Thomas added after crossing the line. “Once again, our team was really strong and we had good numbers. We didn’t panic when the other teams were attacking. When Contador tried, we knew we didn’t have to react straight away as he’s over six minutes behind Froomey, and that other teams would be worrying about him more than us. We followed the others over the top of the climbs and that last one [Montvernier] was pretty tough with all those hairpins, but it was ideal in the end and we’ve got two mountain stages to go.


"We’ve been saying this since the start but morale is really good in the team and everyone’s really up for it. Froomey’s in great form so we’re buzzing about that, and it means we can get that little bit extra out of ourselves as well.


"For Froomey, he can look at it like he’s only got an hour and a half of racing left on the remaining big climbs, and it’s down to the rest of us to make sure he’s in the right position heading onto those climbs."



As the race rolled out of Gap on Thursday morning once again a hefty group of riders pushed clear, featuring a number of top-20 men on GC.


With the break posing a threat to their general classification foothold, Giant-Alpecin and Trek Factory Racing came to the front to ride on behalf of Warren Barguil and Bauke Mollema respectively.


Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was present and picked up points in the king of the mountains competition, edging past the tally of Froome on the Col de Malissol to move into the jersey outright. The jersey remains hotly contested, with the top four riders separated by just four points. 


"It’s hard to control things in these mountains. The Glandon is very hard but I think the team did very well to hold off the attacks that were made against us. The 20-second gap that we let Alberto get, I think that’s pretty decent. There were a lot of attacks today, we did well to weather the storm. It was very hard to control everything," sports director Nolas Portal said.



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