Overall leader Christopher Froome of Britain answers questions of reporters on the rest day of the Tour de France cycling race in Orange, southern France, Monday July 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
Monday, July 15, 2013 9:23 pm
5 things to know about Tour de France
By JAMEY KEATENAssociated Press
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. Tuesday's Stage 16 - aside from a largely ceremonial ride into Paris for Sunday's finish - is probably the least challenging of the remaining legs to the three-week cycling showcase, taking riders through medium-sized mountains over 168-kilometers (104 miles) from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap in the Alps in eastern France. Many rivals and race prognosticators say Froome has simply been too dominant in the mountains and the time-trial so far - and both of those challenges weigh heavily in the third week with three grueling days in the Alps featuring after Wednesday's second time-trial. Cycling cognoscenti say that means one thing: Froome would have to face a catastrophe to lose now.
2. TIME WILL TELL - Fans whistle jeers of doubt as Froome whirrs 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. His Sky team volunteered Monday to open all of his training and performance data, plus blood readings, to independent scrutiny to try to silence the suspicions. Jonathan Vaughters, manager of the Garmin-Sharp team said he believes in "innocent until proven guilty" when it comes to doping. His American squad has been on the forefront of the anti-doping fight. Vaughters said he has no reason to doubt Froome. "But I think you just need the passage of time to let the full fruition of truth evolve," he said "And for now, I'm confident that the truth 10 years from now will be the same as now."
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. The plastic bracelet is lightweight, shock resistant and water proof. "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.
AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire in Entrechaux, France, contributed to this report.