Chris Froome left with few challengers at Tour de France

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CHAMBERY, France (AP) — Chris Froome probably hoped he had a bigger lead than his 18-second advantage over Fabio Aru on the Tour de France’s first rest day.

At least he’s still in one piece, though.

Richie Porte, Froome’s most feared opponent, and Geraint Thomas, Froome’s most loyal support rider at Team Sky, both crashed out of the race on Sunday.

With Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana and seven-time Grand Tour winner Alberto Contador dropping out of contention, it seems there’s only a handful of riders remaining who can still challenge Froome for the title in Paris on July 23.

Aru, the Italian champion and 2015 Spanish Vuelta winner, leads the list followed closely by last year’s runner-up Romain Bardet, the Frenchman who is third overall, 51 seconds back.

Rigoberto Uran, the Colombian who was a two-time runner-up in the Giro d’Italia, is fourth at 55 seconds and Aru’s Astana teammate, Jakob Fuglsang of Denmark, is fifth at 1:37.

The only other rider within two minutes of Froome is Dan Martin, the Irish cyclist who excels on the shorter, steeper climbs that are so prevalent in this year’s race.

TOUR: Results/Standings | Highlights | Broadcast Schedule

“I said (Saturday) that I expected the general classification to be blown up and looking at it, it has,” Froome said. “It’s a lot more spread out now.”

Froome and the other 181 riders still in the three-week race flew across the country late Sunday to southwestern France, where after Monday’s rest day the race resumes with two flat stages suited for sprinters.

Tuesday’s Stage 10 coverage starts at 7:05 a.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold and 7:30 on NBCSN.

The overall battle probably won’t see any changes until the race enters the Pyrenees Thursday and Friday with 16-percent slopes to the Peyragudes ski station and 18-percent stretches on the Mur de Peguere.

After some milder climbing in the Massif Central the Tour returns to the Alps for the so-called “Queen stage” — an unprecedented mountain-top finish at the Col d’Izoard.

The hostile terrain of sun- and snow-scorched rocks and the thinning mountain air on the long climb to an altitude of 2,360 meters (7,742 feet) could make the Izoard, at the end of stage 18, the scene of the last major contest between the remaining favorites.

Aiming to secure his fourth title in five years, Froome likely needs only the slimmest of margins — or even a small deficit — entering the 22.5-kilometer (14-mile) time trial in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille on the penultimate stage 20.

A superb time trialer, Froome should be able to take time on all of his rivals in the race against the clock — just like he did in Stage 1.

Whoever wears yellow at the end of the day in Marseille will cruise around the Champs-Elysees in the mostly ceremonial final leg a day later and pick up the trophy.

Right now, though, it’s all about recovery for Froome and the other leaders after Sunday’s punishing mountain leg.

Rest days, however, are not just for resting.

Almost every rider will go out and train for an hour or two Monday just to keep their bodies from shutting down.

Cannondale-Drapac team manager Jonathan Vaughters explained that the approach to rest days isn’t really understood scientifically because there have not been enough studies of elite riders performing three-week races.

“So what you’re doing is based on theory and anecdote. The pure science would say, ‘Stay in bed all day and don’t move.’ But that doesn’t work,” Vaughters said. “It’s the same as turning the engine off. You just can’t get it started again.

“It’s like studying hard for exams. You’re fine, fine, fine. Then you take the exam and get home from the exam and then the next day you have the flu,” Vaughters said. “You’re like, ‘Now I can rest.’ And then boom, you’re sick.”

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MORE: 10 Tour de France riders to watch

Chris Froome can clinch Tour de France title No. 4 in time trial

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Chris Froome moved one step closer to his fourth Tour de France title by finishing in the same time as his rivals in the 19th of 21 stages on Friday.

Now, Froome focuses on a 14-mile time trial in Marseille on Saturday, where he is heavily favored to defend his 23-second lead over Frenchman Romain Bardet and 29-second advantage on Colombian Rigoberto Uran.

Sunday’s finale — the ride into Paris — is traditionally not a day for attacking the yellow jersey.

NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 7:30 a.m. ET on Saturday.

On Friday, Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen won his first Tour stage in six years on the three-week event’s longest day (138 miles). Boasson Hagen pulled away from an eight-rider group in the last two miles and crossed five seconds ahead of German Nikias Arndt.

Froome, Bardet and Uran were in the large group finishing about 10 minutes later.

TOUR: Results/Standings | Highlights | Broadcast Schedule

Froome, 32, is trying to move within one Tour title of the career record of five shared by Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Froome has been the anchor of cycling’s most powerful team — Team Sky — for five seasons now. Every time the rail-thin Brit has reached the Champs-Élysées in that time, he has been wearing the yellow jersey. The only miss was when he abandoned on Stage 5 in 2014 after crashing three times in two days.

Bardet, 26, was runner-up to Froome in last year’s Tour by 4:05. No Frenchman has won the Tour since Hinault in 1985 — the host nation’s longest victory drought.

Uran, 30 and the 2012 Olympic road race silver medalist, is trying to become the first South American to win the Tour.

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WATCH LIVE: Usain Bolt in final race before world championships

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Usain Bolt races for the last time before his farewell world championships, live during NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold‘s coverage of a Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday starting at 2 p.m. ET.

Bolt will put his four-year winning streak on the line in a 100m race against his toughest field since the Rio Olympics.

The race start is set for 3:35 p.m. A meet preview is here.

The Jamaican will retire after racing the 100m and 4x100m worlds in London in August, with Monaco being his only other meet left this season.

WATCH LIVE: Usain Bolt races in Monaco — 2 p.m. ET

There are doubts about Bolt’s form with worlds in two weeks. He failed to break 10 seconds in his first two races this season in June before seeing his German doctor to work on his chronically balky back.

Fortunately for Bolt, nobody else is performing that well this season, either. None of his top rivals in recent years — Yohan BlakeAndre De Grasse and Justin Gatlin — have broken 9.90 seconds this season.

The Monaco field includes two of the five fastest men in the world this year — South African Akani Simbine and American Chris Belcher — and four men overall who have broken 10 seconds in 2017.

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MORE: Bolt says women are outperforming men in sprints