MODANE, France (AFP) — Tour de France leader Chris Froome (Sky) admits to feeling on edge ahead of the final uphill test of the race: Saturday’s climb up Alpe d’Huez.
Froome is battling with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for the yellow jersey, which will be presented to the Tour winner following Sunday’s largely processional 21st and final stage into Paris. First, the two will square off in Saturday’s 110.5km Stage 20, which runs from Modane to the legendary Alpe d’Huez climb. Froome takes a 2:32 GC lead over 25-year-old Quintana into the showdown.
The 30-year-old winner of the 2013 Tour expects the Alpe to be as rowdy as ever.
“Every rider is a little bit on their tiptoes going up [Saturday’s] stage, a little bit on edge about what’s going to happen up there,” said Froome.
“We know the crowds up there have been partying the last couple of nights, by the time we arrive they’ll be fully into it.
“Everyone’s a bit nervous about getting through there, but hopefully it won’t be too different to last time [in 2013] and it will just be a great atmosphere on the climb and the race isn’t going to get affected in any way.”
Froome is understandably nervous given the treatment he and some of his Sky teammates have come in for during this year’s Tour.
The British outfit has at times encountered a hostile reception in French territory. Froome has said that he had urine thrown at him. Richie Porte has said that he has been punched. Some spectators have spat at riders during the Tour.
Again on Friday, television cameras caught an elderly man enthusiastically and vigorously aiming a rude gesture — known as a bras d’honneur (arm of honor) in France — at Froome as he passed on the final La Toussuire climb. Not long after, cameras caught a different spectator spitting at the race leader.
“Of course it’s appalling behavior. We’re primarily human beings and then sportsmen,” said Froome, who nonetheless insisted such incidents have not spoiled his enjoyment of wearing the yellow jersey at the world’s greatest bike race.
“People need to remember that, you can’t come to a bike race to spit at people, punch people or throw urine at them — it’s not acceptable.”
As for Movistar’s Quintana, he is just focused on trying to wrest the yellow jersey off Froome.
On Friday, the 25-year-old Colombian gained 32 seconds on the Briton in yellow after attacking 5.5km from the La Toussuire summit.
He admitted to being surprised by how well Froome defended his lead but said he would attack again on Saturday.
“We’ll keep fighting and if there’s another opportunity, we’ll take it,” vowed Quintana.
Saturday’s stage has two hors categorie climbs, the 29km Col de la Croix de Fer (average gradient 5.2 percent) and the 13.8km ascent up Alpe d’Huez (at 8.2 percent) to the finish line, amounting to 43km of climbing—on an otherwise relatively short stage, that works out to about 39 percent of the day spent going uphill.