MONTPELLIER, France (AFP) — It may have been shortened by 6 kilometers, but the climb up Mont Ventoux remains a foreboding challenge for Chris Froome and his Tour de France rivals on Thursday.
Gusts of wind reaching 100kph at the summit of the most iconic climb in the Tour on Wednesday convinced organizers ASO to shorten the normally 21km long final ascent of the mountain due to safety concerns.
The move found support among riders, many of whom have already been complaining about dangerous sprint finishes and chaotic stages.
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“It’s the right thing to do for safety. Everyone wants to see a great show but the most important thing for the riders is safety,” said Froome, who wears the race leader’s yellow jersey and holds a 28-second lead over fellow Briton Adam Yates of Orica – BikeExchange.
The Team Sky leader insists that despite the shortened length of the climb, it remains a beast of a mountain that few riders, even the specialist climbers, will relish taming.
While the first 6km of the Ventoux climb will be relatively easy, the last 9.6km have an average gradient of 9.3 percent.
That makes it as tough as any climb the peloton will ascend during the Tour, notwithstanding that this will be done at full pelt, and probably with a stage victory and yellow jersey up for grabs to the winner.
“To be honest I don’t think it really changes too much,” said Froome, 31, of the new finish at Chalet Reynard.
“The climb until Chalet Reynard is extremely hard.”
Froome gained time on his main rivals on Wednesday’s 11th stage, including Colombian Nairo Quintana — the favorite to win Thursday’s 178km 12th stage, which started in Montpellier.
A late attack from Froome and Peter Sagan, who won Wednesday’s stage, alongside a teammate of each, allowed the Briton to extend his overall lead by 12 seconds.
It was the second such time in this Tour that Froome attacked with panache at a point no one expected it to put time into his rivals.
Some have questioned whether it was wise riding to expend so much energy on a flat stage, already made exhausting by the buffeting wind, with a tough climb to come the next day.
But Froome insisted it was worth it.
“I’m going to take any advantage I can get knowing that Nairo in particular is really strong in the third week.
“If I can take any seconds in this point, I will.”
By the time the Ventoux climb is finished on Thursday, we will have more of an idea whether Wednesday’s attack was a stroke of genius or a wasted effort.