Chris Froome has called on Tour de France organisers to shorten Thursday’s twin climbs of Alpe d’Huez if it rains, writes Mike Walters in Chorges - because the descent in between would be lethal.
Va Va Froome tightened his grip on the Yellow Jersey with a brilliant win in Wednesday’s time trial – and even had time to change his bike halfway round before stretching his lead over arch-rival Alberto Contador.
But as the peloton heads for Le Tour’s showpiece stage, a prestigious double helping of purgatory on a mountain colonised by an estimated 1.2 million fans, Froome appealed to technical director Jean-Francois Peschaux to put the riders’ safety first.
Thunderstorms are forecast for the French Alps, and in greasy conditions the hairpin bends on the way down will be deadlier than sharks’ jaws.
Froome, now leading second-placed Contador by 4min 34sec, said: “It would be sad not to do the planned two climbs, which is something special about the 100th edition of the Tour.
“But safety comes first and it’s a dangerous descent – if it starts raining, I would hope the race organisers would take a decision to go up the Alpe d’Huez just once in the interests of the riders’ safety, which must come first.
“If we have to make that descent in the wet, we’ll be ready and up for it, but the surface is not great.”
While Froome led the peloton’s elf ‘n’ safety lobby, Peschaux has no intention of commuting his Hollywood stage, saying there is “zero chance” of a rethink at the last minute when the route was published nine months ago.
But world time trial champion Tony Martin has branded the downhill stretch “irresponsible” and Garmin-Sharp sporting director Charly Wegelius, the highest-placed British rider on the 2007 Tour, warned there would be “danger round every corner” for Froome.
Lord Alp us? Froome won’t mind the monster climbs to 6,560ft after his third stage win of the 2013 race.
Huez a clever boy, then? He is now only the second British rider to win more than two stages in a single Tour de France – Mark Cavendish is the other.
But the Alpe d’Huez, invaded by Dutch fans (mainly because they haven’t got any mountains of their own), will be the ultimate test of Froome’s ability to lead from the front.
If he comes through the organisers’ Alpine theme park ride with his lead intact, surely he will succeed Sir Bradley Wiggins as champion.
But Wegelius warned: “Going up the Alpe d’Huez twice is going to be pandemonium. It’s going to be dangerous and the descent is not going to be at all straightforward. The road is extremely narrow and I think you could see more dramas there.”
And Martin, who was afforded a dress rehearsal for today’s potential carnage in the Criterium du Dauphine two months ago, said: “We rode exactly the course of the Tour, and I must say I was negatively surprised.
“The road is old, narrow, the surface is bad, there are no barriers – and if a rider makes a mistake, he will face a free-fall of 30 metres. To send us there is irresponsible, and I can’t imagine that anything about the road has changed.”
Contador shook his head ruefully as Froome – who admitted he was prepared to take a hit of up to a minute against his leading rivals – undercut the Spaniard’s best time of 51min 42sec by 8.82sec on the 32km race against the clock from Embrun to Chorges.
Froome’s change from a road bike to a time trial ‘aero’ set of wheels proved decisive, and he added: “I’m surprised to have won the stage because I didn’t want to empty myself here with three big stages in the mountains coming up.
“I wanted to hold something back and I was prepared to lose a bit of time, so to come away with another stage win was a real bonus. I didn’t want to be wrecked for the Alpe d’Huez.”
* SIR CHRIS HOY has defended Chris Froome as doping casts a shadow over his leadership of the Tour de France, writes Rebecca Coles.
Frustrated Froome walked away after being repeatedly quizzed over the subject of drugs this week, and Hoy believes the Team Sky rider is unfairly paying the price for cycling’s dark past.
Hoy said: “It must be incredibly frustrating for him and the other riders to have to justify themselves.
“But you can see why they are asking the questions because there has been so many issues with it but hopefully what we can show that it is possible to win clean.
“He is a role model for future champions and you don’t have to go down that route that the cheats went down.”
Six-time Olympic champion Hoy, marking the re-opening of the Olympic Stadium a year on from the Games, admits the revelation this week that athletes Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell have failed tests, creates more doubt over individual achievement.
Hoy added: “Any positive test or any drug speculation is not good for sport, it’s depressing for the fans, they want to believe that what they are seeing is true to form and its depressing for the athletes.”
“However, in a way, it’s good news because if people are cheating then they are going to get caught, you think about the athletes who are clean, who are competing against people like that. They want to know that the playing field is level – so it’s short-term pain, long-term gain.
“Get the cheats out, get them caught and then we can hopefully see the athletes that are 100% genuine.”