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Bardet, Froome take early peek at Alpe d’Huez

Tour de France favorites Chris Froome (Sky) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) both checked out the Alpe d’Huez summit this week in training.

They might have even passed each other Wednesday on cycling’s most famous switchbacks.

Less than a month from the start of the 2018 Tour, the protagonists are busy preparing for the season’s grand tour battle across France.

Froome, hot off his dramatic and controversial victory at the Giro d’Italia, is already in the Alps scouting out some of the decisive climbs the peloton will face next month. Earlier this week, Froome posted a photo on Twitter during a training ride with teammate Wout Poels on the key climbs of stage 11. On Wednesday, the pair rode up the famed 21 switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez, which will be featured in stage 12 this year.

Bardet, third overall at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné, is also diving into deep Tour preparations before the July 7 start.

The official Alpe d’Huez Twitter feed posted photos of Froome and Bardet riding up the climb.

It’s no surprise the favorites are returning to the Tour’s most famous climb. The Alpe d’Huez stage will be one of the decisive days of the 2018 Tour and no one wants to leave anything to chance.

With all of the major climbs back-loaded into the second half of the 2018 route, Alpe d’Huez comes in the third of a string of pivotal climbing stages across the Alps.

Three days of hostility open with the five-climb, 159-kilometer stage 10 from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand that comes a day after the Tour’s first rest day and long transfer from northern France. The short and potentially explosive 108km 11th stage to La Rosière, which will include the race’s first major mountaintop finale, could produce surprises.

The threesome ends with an old-school, four-climb, 175km stage ending atop the 21 switchbacks at Alpe d’Huez. The route tackles two hors-categorie climbs — the Col de la Madeleine and Croix de Fer (with a short Cat. 2 in between) — before hitting the finale at the Alpe d’Huez.

Neither Bardet nor Froome have had much success on Alpe d’Huez.

Froome hopes to have better luck at the Alpe d’Huez stage in what will be his fourth assault of the climb.

In 2013 when the Alpe was climbed twice in the same stage, Froome struggled late but rode defensively to cede 1:06 to Nairo Quintana and finish seventh on the day. In 2015, Froome struggled again on the Tour’s penultimate stage, giving up 1:20 to Quintana in what was the race’s final summit to place fifth in the stage standings. In both cases, Froome hung on to win the yellow jersey.

Bardet has also twice raced up Alpe d’Huez. In 2013, he was 16th on the stage at more than 5 minutes back en route to 15th overall in his Tour debut. In 2015, he struggled to 18th at 3:30 back en route to ninth overall.

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