SAINT-GIRONS, France (AFP) — Bastille Day is a time for fun and festivities, but for Chris Froome (Sky) and his Tour de France rivals it will be a day of danger and suffering on Friday.
For most mortals, the prospect of a 101-kilometer bike ride through the Pyrénées would seem daunting, but for reigning champion Froome and race leader Fabio Aru (Astana), it is a short and punchy stage 13 with pitfalls aplenty.
Froome lost his yellow jersey to Aru by six seconds after cracking on the brutally steep final climb to Peyragudes on Thursday’s stage 12.
Froome has worn yellow for more than 50 days at the Tour. Aru said his depleted Astana team will fight hard to keep it.
“We’ve already said since the beginning of the Tour that this is a dangerous stage,” said Aru of Friday’s route.
“Short stages can really hurt because they’re done at speed — with just 100km, there will be many riders in the break and we’ll have to follow them. I’m expecting a tough day.”
Former Vuelta winner Aru leads Froome with Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), the winner of Thursday’s 12th stage, third at 25 seconds back. Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) is fourth at 55 seconds.
But all eyes will be on Froome to see how he reacts to his unexpected struggles on Thursday. Bardet expects the Briton, a three-time Tour winner, to strike back on Friday.
“We’ll have to be careful of Sky, they don’t like losing and will try to turn it around,” warned Bardet.
“We remain human beings and if [Froome] showed his limits, he nonetheless did well to limit the damage and I’m wary about how he’ll react.”
If the riders will be on edge during the stage, organizers and local police are also nervous at a time of high tension in France. Last year’s Bastille Day celebrations were overshadowed by a terrorist attack in Nice that left 86 people dead.
Security at the Tour has been ramped up this year, particularly for this stage, with anti-terror units following the race in a helicopter and a canine team trained in sniffing out explosives amongst crowds of people also deployed.