Blazin' Saddles

Echoes of Armstrong as Froome avoids Contador catastrophe

Blazin' Saddles

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His climbing and time-trialling exploits have recalled the bullishness of Lance Armstrong. His Sky team have been branded 'British Postal'. Chris Froome has even been tricked into saying comparisons between him and the shamed Texan are "complimentary".

What the yellow jersey of the 2013 Tour de France certainly didn't need next was to be caught up in a re-enactment of Armstrong's famous evasive cyclo-cross exploit to avoid a sprawling Spaniard on the fast descent of the Col de Manse to Gap.

But on Tuesday that exact thing happened - although Alberto Contador's fall was far less horrific than that of Joseba Beloki 10 years earlier, while Froome's course of action was positively less dramatic than Armstrong's dual avoidance of a policeman and a ditch before riding through a field to rejoin the road.

Just a couple of bends after the spot where Beloki's wheel slipped in the melting tarmac, Contador himself skidded while trying to distance the yellow jersey.

Where the road greeted Beloki with a double broken femur, broken wrist and elbow, the soft tarmac was less exacting for his countryman a decade later, Contador only suffering a cut right knee and some moderate swelling.

As for Froome, like Armstrong, he had to swerve to avoid his rival - but what came next was about as dramatic as an episode of Last of the Summer Wine. He merely veered slightly onto the verge before unclipping his pedal to avoid a fall, then carried on his way. Indeed, if anything proved that Froome is far cry from Armstrong then it was in that moment.

Despite making it to Gap alongside Richie Porte without losing any time, Froome was not a happy bunny and laid into Contador for seemingly wanting to race.

"If they're not attacking me on the climbs then they're attacking me on the descents," he said - as if it were a shock that his rivals may try a new tactic when all others were failing.

"It was quite a dangerous descent and famous for Beloki's crash and Armstrong doing his off-road stuff. It was a bit careless of Alberto to attack. It wasn't good. He was pushing the limits and crashed. I went off the road and had to unclip before getting back going again.

"I was lucky to have Richie there.

"I personally think teams are getting desperate now, therefore taking uncalculated risks."

To be fair, Chris, the first two weeks of the race have proved that cycling uphill and against the clocks are not exactly conducive to making you crack, so you can't blame your rivals for trying something different.

As for Contador, he said that the road was soft from the heat and his tyre slipped. He said his wounds were not serious, claiming they were "only a knock".

Anyway, with rain forecast in the Alps for the rest of the week, it could well be the downhills that prove just as decisive as the uphills - most notably the treacherous descent down the back of the Col du Sarenne on Thursday and Friday's ride down the Croix de Fry towards Le Grand Bornand.

Later, after the dust had seemingly settled, Froome even took to Twitter (a rarity, indeed) to voice his grievances directly to Contador, tweeting in a very patron-du-peloton-esque way: "Almost went over your head, Alberto. Little more care next time?"

Perhaps a better tactic for Froome would be not to ride so ridiculously close to a man who is trailing him by four-and-a-half minutes on GC...

Or, like Armstrong, is he hell bent on giving no-one any gifts?

(INDIRECTLY FUNNIEST) TWEET OF THE DAY: "Contador have always his best day after the second rest day. So remake of 2011? Nice stage for offensive." Philippe Gilbert, we salute you...

HOT: Rui Costa fell on his sword last week when having to help pace back team-mate Alejandro Valverde after the Spaniard picked up a flat in the crosswinds. As a result, the Portuguese shipped 11 minutes and dropped out of the top ten. So it was poetic justice to see the Tour de Suisse double winner recoup that 11 minutes while picking up his second career win on the Tour.

NOT: Try as they might, the host nation are still without a win in their own race. On Tuesday, there were eight French riders in the break of 26 and although they finished with three in the top four, none of those were first over the line. In fact, all three riders - Jerome Coppel, Christophe Riblon and Arnold Jeannesson - finished shoulder-to-shoulder to make a blue, white and red Tricolor flag coming across the line. It looked very nice - but a win's still better than a makeshift flag.

STAGE 17: EMBRUN - CHORGES, 32KM ITT

Well, it's lucky that Bauke Mollema - unlike his Belkin team-mate Laurens Ten Dam - managed to stick with the race favourites en route to Gap, otherwise Contador would be rolling down the ramp just three minutes ahead of Froome in the mountain time trial. After all, we wouldn't want Froome riding dangerously close to his Spanish rival on the final descent to Chorges. What if Contador was to fall on a tight bend?

Tour organisers say this race against the clock is the hardest they have ever designed - and that's certainly not all rhetoric and hyperbole. The first climb peaks at 10 per cent and is often ridden into fierce headwinds coming off the Lac de Serre Poncon. It's followed by a treacherous downhill of twisting bends and narrow roads. While the second climb and descent combo is not as hard, some riders may be taking risks - while the threat of rain also looms.

There really is only one winner here, with Froome likely to increase his overall lead to more than six minutes after his third stage win of the race.

PLAT DU JOUR: The weather has been so hot in this year's Tour that you could probably get away with having a 'pierrade' grill by just leaving the stone one in the sunlight for a few hours. And if cheese if your thing, then forget the Raclette machine and just use direct rays from the sun.

But what's that you say? It may be raining on Wednesday?? Zut alors! You'll just have to drink shots of the local plant liqueur, Genepi.

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