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Tour de France

Urán has last laugh and sneaks into second

Rigoberto Urán's tactical wisdom helps the Colombian slip onto the Tour podium in the race's penultimate mountain stage.

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It’s hard to ruffle Rigoberto Urán’s feathers.

The Cannondale-Drapac captain showed his sangfroid in Wednesday’s tactical battle over the Col du Galibier. He bounced up into second place with a fast finish.

In the post-stage emotion, French star Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) criticized Urán for not following his wheel when he attacked. The fuming Frenchman chastised the Colombian for racing without panache. Bardet suggested Urán was only saving his strength for the finish-line time bonuses.

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When a French journalist asked for his reaction to Bardet’s comments, Urán just shrugged.

“I don’t want to say anything. Everyone has their own manner of racing,” Urán said. “When you don’t have a team as strong as Sky, with climb so far away and such a long downhill, it doesn’t make much sense to attack. In the end, I worked to take some time on [Fabio] Aru.”

When the journalist pressed Urán, and asked him if he would attack in Thursday’s mountaintop finale, Urán countered: “Why don’t you ask Bardet?”

With that, Urán had the last laugh.

The 30-year-old’s patience paid huge dividends Wednesday, the first of two decisive Alpine days. With only four stages remaining, this Tour could come down to seconds. Urán went from fourth to second at 27 seconds behind.

Instead of following some fan-friendly flares from Bardet on the final ramps of the Col du Galibier against a strong Sky presence, Urán prudently saved his matches. When Astana’s Aru faltered near the top, Urán helped pour it on to gap out the struggling Italian. And then, after the long run down the valley against a headwind to finish line, Urán won a five-up sprint to claim the six-second time-bonus for second place.

When the race jury ran the numbers, Urán slipped ahead of Bardet by four one-hundredths of a second taken from the stage 1 Düsseldorf time trial.

No wonder the Frenchman was fuming.

“With such a long downhill toward the finish, and the way the wind was, it was always a tricky final,” said Cannondale-Drapac sport director Charly Wegelius. “[Urán] did a great race and taking some time from Aru was super-positive.”

Urán’s fairytale Tour de France keeps getting better.

When the Tour started nearly three weeks ago, not many rated his chances. He’s moved from 95th after the opening day time trial to second, thanks to one stage win, two second places and two top-10s. With only four stages to go, Urán is knocking on the yellow jersey door.

Team Sky has noticed. Chris Froome won the four-second third-place sprint to widen his yellow jersey lead. Bardet had little to show after a hard day’s work.

“If [Urán] moves, I have to stick with him,” Froome said. “I cannot give him an inch at this point.”

Urán has moved firmly onto Sky’s radar, and Froome called the Colombian his top challenger as he looked ahead to Saturday’s time trial.

“If the differences stay the same as they are today after the Izoard, I think Urán will be my biggest threat,” Froome said. “He’s the best time trialist of the bunch [behind me].”

Cannondale-Drapac is holding its breath.

Everyone is hoping Urán can hang on through Thursday’s climbing crescendo that ends atop the Col d’Izoard. The way Urán has deftly handled the Tour so far, he should be able to make it out of the Tour’s final major climbs with his podium chances fully intact.

Everyone behind Froome knows they need more time on the three-time defending champion to have any real chance of winning the Tour. Bardet promises to attack again Thursday. Sky’s Mikel Landa also promises to move to enhance his podium chances in the time trial.

Will Urán pitch in this time? Like Bardet, he needs to erase the 27-second gap to Froome. Also, he should add at least another 60 seconds as a buffer for the time trial.

When the French journalist asked Urán what tactical card he will play Thursday, Urán just shrugged his shoulders.

“There is still one more complicated and difficult finale,” Urán said. “Tomorrow we will try again.”