By John Leicester
GAP, France: Hurtling too fast for comfort down a twisty, turning foothill of the Alps, Tour de France leader Chris Froome faced a high-speed choice between risk and reward.
The Briton knew that 10 years ago on exactly the same descent, Joseba Beloki shattered his leg, elbow and wrist rounding a corner too fast and Lance Armstrong plowed into a field to avoid the prone Spaniard howling in pain.
So Froome wanted to go easy. Trouble was, Alberto Contador didn’t.
Against his better instincts, Froome chased after his Spanish rival who sped down the treacherous stretch.
Just like Armstrong, flirting with disaster nearly cost Froome the Tour. Contador crashed as he rounded a right-hand corner, forcing Froome to swerve off the road, onto the grass and to put a foot down to stay upright.
Unlike Contador, who bloodied his right knee, Froome escaped with just a fright.
Still, the drama on Tuesday’s 104-mile Stage 16 proved a point that Froome and his Sky team have made time and again: Despite his big lead, Froome won’t savor victory until he’s on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday.
“One second you could be going for the finish and about to win a race and the next you’re lying in a ditch somewhere, with a broken bone,” Froome said.
The finish line in Paris is now just 415 miles and five days away.
And there’s worse to come. Today’s Stage 18 not only includes a double ascent to the ski station of Alpe d’Huez, with its 21 hairpin bends, but also a harrowing descent that several riders have voiced concerns about.