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As the race heads towards the Pyrenees, race leader Chris Froome has said that it is vital that he keeps close tabs on all of his main rivals, recognising that he is facing multiple threats to his yellow jersey.
Closest after 10 stages is Fabio Aru of Astana, who is just 18 seconds behind the Briton. Aru attacked on stage five and soloed to victory, underlining that he is a major danger to Froome. The latter has suggested that his tactical awareness is Aru’s biggest asset and, for Froome, a big threat.
“His biggest strength was on the Planche de Belles Filles, where I think tactically he made a very good move at the right moment,” he said in the post-stage press conference on Tuesday. “He was able to get that time back, given also there was a flat part in the last few kilometres before the final. The main GC guys at that point did ease up a little bit and start looking at each other.
“No-one wanted to pull on that flat part, so he attacked before then, which is tactically very clever. He was able to go on and win that stage.
“I would have to say that tactically it seems that he reads the race very well. That is something I am going to have to be attentive of going forward.”
Froome was asked about a rider who didn’t appear on many people’s radars before the race, but who won Sunday’s stage and jumped up to fourth overall. His performance then underlined him as one to watch, and Froome is taking him seriously.
“I think Rigoberto Uran has done a great race up until now,” he confirmed. “I certainly would consider him as a threat to the yellow jersey. If he moves, I will go straight after him. I won’t give him any space to get any closer.
“Anyone that close at this stage I would have to consider as a threat. Romain Bardet of course as well, just over 50 seconds.”
Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana were two of the biggest rivals entering the race. However Porte crashed out on Sunday, while Quintana appeared off from and is back in eighth, two minutes and 13 seconds back. He rode the Giro d’Italia, finishing second overall and, like others who aimed for success in the Italian race before him, is below his normal level in the Tour.
Alberto Contador is also not at his best. He lost time on stage 5 and also had a tough time on Sunday. As a result he is five minutes and 15 seconds back, Froome isn’t willing to completely dismiss his chances. He’s not the biggest threat, but he remains dangerous.
“i think he has had a tough race up until now,” he said. “Even though he has lost more than five minutes … he is not someone that I would have to react to straight away if he did move, but at the same time I think we have seen with Alberto’s style of racing than he is never shy to attack from far out.
“I think with a stage like we have on Friday, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him attacking on the very first climb of the day. If that was the case, he might be able to come back a little more on the game. But I think we will be ready for that. I think at this point we are not going to allow anyone come back on GC.”
Froome’s caution is due to races such as last year’s Vuelta a España; Contador fired off an early move which dragged a break clear, including Quintana. The latter then built a decisive buffer over Froome, something which kept him in the red jersey right until the end of the race and consigned the Briton to the runner-up slot.
That was difficult to take and Froome is determined it won’t happen again.
“I think lessons have been learned, most notably from the Vuelta last year,” he said. “The short stage that came after the Queen stage.
“We have got a very different team here in the Tour de France and I find it very hard to see that kind of scenario happening again. Certainly when we are at the start line on Friday, that will be at the forefront of my mind. I can’t see it happening again, but then again this is the Tour de France and anything can happen. We have to be ready for it.”
He is aware that the danger is that three riders are less than a minute back, while two others – Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Dan Martin (QuickStep Floors) are less than two minutes behind.
“Compared to other rivals, I think everyone has got their [strengths],” he said. “Contador, you can expect to be going from very far out. Romain Bardet, as he did last year, he made his move on Sunday’s stage on a wet descent, a tricky descent, close to the final.
“We still have a couple of downhill finishes coming up, so we can expect him to be moving as well.
“I basically just have to go off the general classification at this point and whoever is closest, I have to watch more closely.”
Froome’s ultimate aim is to take a fourth Tour win in five years. He believes he is on course to do that, although there still is plenty of racing left. Still, each passing day brings him past the riders who have come before.
On Tuesday he picked up what was a milestone achievement, taking his 50th yellow jersey. He was asked if that result is satisfying in itself, or if he was focussed completely on winning the race overall.
“It would certainly be sweeter if I was am able to keep this all the way until Paris,” he said, referring to the Maillot Jaune. “I was just told that actually once I crossed the finish line today, that this is my 50th day in yellow and equal with Anquetil, if I stand corrected. That’s a huge, huge honour.”