Tour de France: With Alps left, race favors man in yellow

2013-07-16T00:00:00Z Tour de France: With Alps left, race favors man in yellowThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

ORANGE, France - Five things to know as the Tour de France enters its 16th Stage today:

1. The home stretch: Chris Froome is on the cusp of Tour de France victory. After Monday's rest day, the 28-year-old Briton is set to embark on six final stages in defense of his yellow jersey - having virtually sewed up a win with a tour-de-force performance atop famed Mont Ventoux a day earlier. Today's Stage 16 -from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap in the Alps in eastern France - is relatively easy, and Froome has simply been too dominant in the mountains and the time trial so far. Both of those challenges weigh heavily in the third week with three grueling days in the Alps after Wednesday's second time trial.

2. Time will tell: Fans whistle jeers of doubt as Froome whirs up a mountainside to dust his rivals; chatter erupts in social media comparing him to a doped-up Lance Armstrong; French sports newspaper L'Equipe runs a cheeky front-page headline "Froome: Naturally."

After his striking show of dominance in Sunday's 15th stage, the Briton is facing suspicion about doping - and insists he is clean. After the ravages of drug use and cheating over the past 20 years to the sport's image, many fans say the suspicion is warranted. Froome himself has said such questions are fair - even if he's shown growing exasperation over being asked about it repeatedly.

3. Contador's constraints: At the start of his rest-day news conference, Alberto Contador received a question about whether he believed Froome's performance deserved suspicion. The Spaniard responded, but only after laying down the ground rules first: No more than two questions related to doping. "If you want to ask more about that I will go to my room because I have a very hard week at the Tour ahead." The two-time Tour winner might find the subject a bit sensitive - he was stripped of his 2010 Tour title and had to sit out the race last year. The 30-year-old Saxo Bank team leader once known as "El Conquistador" said he doesn't doubt Froome and is "absolutely confident in his performance. In any case, that's what the (doping) controls are for."

4. Wrist day help: Monday's rest day - or should it be wrist day? - featured the president of the Association of Professional Riders giving lifesaver bracelets to every rider still in the race. These wrist bracelets, called ICE (In Case of Emergency) are equipped with software inserted in a USB key. This is designed to provide personal medical information - allergies, diseases, any medication the rider may be taking - that could facilitate treatment in case of an accident or crash, thanks to the date recorded on the memory stick. The plastic bracelet is lightweight, shock resistant and waterproof. "We felt it was important to allow all riders, wearing a simple bracelet in racing or training, to have one more tool for their safety," CPA president Gianni Bugno said. "With the hope, of course, that no one will ever need to use it seriously."

5. Taking a ride: How do some riders while away boring rest days? Taking journalists for a ride. David Millar told The Associated Press that he and Garmin-Sharp teammate Ryder Hesjedal of Canada planned to go sky-diving on Monday afternoon, saying that he needed to "re-charge the adrenal glands" to get a different kind of adrenaline rush than that of riding 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph) on steep downhills, for example. "Take it up a level," the Scottish veteran said while he lounged in a lawn chair outside the team's hotel. But Garmin-Sharp spokeswoman Marya Pongrace became queasy as the AP inquired if such a hair-raising outing was really planned, and ultimately got Millar to fess up: "It's not true," he said with a laugh.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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