Tour de France 2020

Mind the Gap: Froome faces a big test on Monday

The race leader had a rough ride into Gap in 2013, and he's hoping that history doesn't repeat itself this year

VALENCE, France (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) is hoping history won’t repeat itself. Or at least one particularly intense chapter, anyway.

The yellow jersey will keep his guard up during Monday’s 201km 16th stage over the Cat. Col de Manse, hoping to avoid a replay of the 2013 stage that saw archrival Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) try to spring a trap on the descent.

“The descent into Gap isn’t as tricky as it has been in the past,” Froome said. “The climb is tough, and I expect it will be quite an eventual stage.”

The scenario is stacking up as eerily similar to the one in 2013, when the Sky captain was ambushed by rivals who were clearly beaten on the climbs and trying to exploit Froome’s perceived weakness on the descents.

Two years ago, Froome looked to be on cruise control heading into the Alps. He had just won an emotional stage atop Mont Ventoux, his second of what would be three wins on the race, and entered the 168km 16th stage from Vaison-sur-Romain to Gap firmly in yellow, more than four minutes ahead of his nearest rival.

Things quickly unraveled going up and down the Cat. 2 Col de Manse, just 12km from the finish line in Gap. Already more than four minutes back, Contador attacked on the climb and the descent, a tricky, off-camber descent that’s been a scene of much Tour drama over the years.

While desperately trying to gap Froome, the Spaniard over-cooked a corner and crashed, forcing Froome to unclip to avoid a similar fate.

Froome later angrily accused Contador of “dangerous racing.”

Monday’s stage traces a route similar to the one in 2013. The approach to the Manse climb is a bit different, but the treacherous descent into Gap remains on the menu.

It’s hard to know if Contador or other rivals will try to rattle Froome on Monday. So far, the Sky captain has been firmly in control of his destiny, and Contador has been struggling to find his rhythm.

“I think the stage to Gap will be quite predictable, and everyone will be waiting for it, and that it will be difficult to make anything happen,” Contador said of the possibility of surprising Froome. “What I can assure everyone is that while I still have one gram of strength, I will do everything I can to try to do something beautiful.”

If Contador can’t make it happen, Movistar might try something. With Nairo Quintana now in second place at 3:10 back, and Alejandro Valverde in fourth at 4:02, the Spanish team has the most to gain from aggressive tactics.

Valverde, however, said he expects the real battle to come in the Alps, starting Wednesday.

“There are no easy stages in this Tour, and in the final tomorrow, we can count on some surprises from Alberto, or maybe BMC will even try something. We can never relax,” Valverde said.

“There will be a battle on the final climb, but I believe the real differences will be made in the Alps.”

With Paris ever closer, Froome admitted he’s just as worried about avoiding a costly mistake as he is about losing time on the climbs.

“At this stage, there is a big element in staying safe now. I am fortunate and privileged to have more than three minutes on Nairo,” Froome said.

“The racing is going to be happening up the climbs, but like we did today, the job of the team is keep me up front to avoid crashes and other issues. That’s on the forefront of our minds every day.”

Froome is so strong and confident, he could almost play defense, though he’s already hinted he hopes to win the Tour’s penultimate stage up L’Alpe d’Huez in the yellow jersey.

“There are only five real days of racing left. We’re into the last part of the race now,” Froome said. “The fatigue is starting to set in. Everyone is looking forward to the next rest day. The Alps won’t be easy by any means, but Paris feels a lot closer.”

Unfortunately for Froome, the road to Paris goes up and down the Col du Manse.