PAU, France (AFP) — Chris Froome believes Thursday’s stage 12 of the Tour de France will be key to claiming a fourth overall title.
The 32-year-old Briton leads the race by 18 seconds from Fabio Aru but the overall contenders face a daunting task.
“It’s a tough day, over 200km, we go over some big climbs — the Port de Bales is the most significant climb of the day, the third from final one,” said Froome.
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“We go down just before the final climb … and then 4km up to the finish.”
It’s a 214.5-kilometer Pyrenean mountain stage from Pau to Peyragudes that includes six categorized climbs, with riders expected to spend more than six hours in the saddle.
Five years ago, Froome finished second to Spain’s Alejandro Valverde on the stage 17 finish at Peyragudes, a stage which Froome believes he could have won had he not been ordered to wait for his then-team leader Bradley Wiggins.
“It’s a bit different to 2012 this time. The finish is on an airstrip, an uphill airstrip with an over 20 percent gradient,” Froome said.
“It’s savage! If someone blows over those last few hundred meters, there could be some significant time gaps.”
July 13 also marks an important anniversary in British cycling, as it’s been 50 years since the death of Tom Simpson during the 1967 Tour on Mont Ventoux due to a mix of heat exhaustion and a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs.
“Certainly, Tom Simpson left a legacy on which I’d like to believe a lot of us British guys racing in the Tour de France continue to build upon,” Froome added.
Froome has unfinished business with this stage finish and he admitted to having felt “frustration” in 2012 when ordered to wait for Wiggins rather than chase down Valverde.
He missed out on the stage win by just 19 seconds and certainly appeared to be strong enough to catch the Spaniard. This time, however, he’s more concerned with holding onto the yellow jersey.
“There are only two uphill finishes now … so it’s going to really be one of the key stages to this year’s race,” Froome said.
He said he will be sticking to second-placed Aru “like glue,” as his lead over the Italian is just 18 seconds.
But that might give third-placed Romain Bardet of France the chance to make up his own 51-second deficit. And he believes the stage is ideal for him.
“There are many queen stages at the Tour de France, and this is an important stage — a beautiful mountain stage with a summit finish,” said the 27-year-old Bardet, who leads the Ag2r-La Mondiale team.
“I hope it will go well and I’ll be able to wage war. We’ll do our best, it’s going to be a marathon stage of more than 200km, it has the kind of profile I like.”
Stage 12 will also pass the 2,024th kilometer from a total of 3,540km over the three weeks, with that point being marked by a special ceremony to celebrate Paris’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics.
Meanwhile, fourth-placed Colombian Rigoberto Uran is riding high after winning Sunday’s stage but said the strength of Froome’s Sky team makes him hard to beat.
“Sky has a very strong team, the strongest. When there are just 10 riders left, they have three.
“We’ll have to see how the race goes in the final.”