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by Shane Stokes
July 18, 2016
Photography by Cor Vos
With each passing day more and more people are starting to believe that Chris Froome will win his third Tour de France, but the BMC Racing Team is insisting that things are not set in stone yet.
The squad had a mixed day on Sunday’s 15th stage. Richie Porte finished with the Froome group, improving one place to seventh overall but maintaining his four minute 27 second deficit. Tejay van Garderen had a tougher day, cracking towards the end and trailing in one minute 28 seconds back.
This caused him to slide from sixth to eighth overall. He is now four minutes 47 seconds back and likely out of the hunt for a podium in Paris.
“I was just in my own world just trying to hold the wheel in front of me,” van Garderen explained when asked about the final climb. “But I couldn’t hold it.
“To be honest, I felt fine [earlier]. Just the pace was pretty incredible. I can’t say that I had bad sensations, it was just above the level that I had on the day.”
Perhaps because of that slight off day, and thus an understanding that the human body can weaken unexpectedly, van Garderen said that the final outcome of the race remains uncertain. He insisted that there were no guarantees that Chris Froome will hold on to win the race overall.
“Anything can happen. Once you get into the third week of a Grand Tour, it is like Russian Roulette,” he said. “It could be anyone’s day [to crack].”
The sentiment was echoed by team President Jim Ochowicz. He said that the probability of a change in the yellow jersey was dropping with every passing stage, but that he wouldn’t rule anything out.
“It is getting less likely every day. The odds are running out in terms of someone else taking over,” he told CyclingTips. “But anything can still happen. Tomorrow is another day and you know this race goes. Guarantees aren’t one of the things you get with this sport.
“We will see as soon as we get further along tomorrow, then a rest day. I think people will re-evaluate, re-energise on Tuesday and we will be back in the hunt again on Wednesday.”
Before then, though, is a stage that could be of big importance for the team. The Tour heads to Switzerland on Monday and will finish in Berne, approximately 40 kilometres away from title sponsor BMC’s headquarters in Grenchen.
The team already won a stage earlier in the race with Greg Van Avermaet, who was victorious on day five. He also secured yellow as a result. The Belgian will hunt another stage win on Monday.
“We have got a tough stage tomorrow into Berne and we will be thinking about that a little bit tonight,” said Ochowicz. “It’s a stage that we have had in mind for a while.
“It is likely to be pretty hard at the end. It is not necessarily a Cavendish stage per se, because it is a hard climb off the river up into town in the last kilometre. We expect to see the usual guys…Sagan, Greg [Van Avermaet] and a couple of others going for it.”
After that stage and Tuesday’s rest day, the general classification battle will resume in the Alps. Porte went into the race as an equal leader with van Garderen, but had a mechanical problem on stage two and dropped one minute 45 seconds. Without that he would likely be up in third overall at this point, two minutes 42 seconds behind Froome.
He is looking for opportunities to try to make up time but said there was no chance of that on Sunday.
“To be honest, everybody was pretty much on their limits and no one could really do much,” he said at the finish. “It was a hard day. It is just good to get it done.
“If someone could have attacked there they would have attacked. The pace was on pretty much all day. That descent was quite sketchy too. When the roads are melting and there is loose gravel on the surface, it is not so nice.
“I think it is good just to come through that unscathed and then get through tomorrow into the rest day. Then it is every man for himself, really, in that last week.”
Porte rode alongside Chris Froome in Team Sky for four years and was also a regular training partner of his. He was asked if there were any tell-tale signs that the Briton might be weakening.
“The thing with that is when it looked like Quintana was going to attack, he [Froome] threw a little dummy attack in and that just quietened everybody down,” he said.
“His team is pretty strong too. We will just see what happens in the next few days.”