Chris Froome eyes fourth Tour de France title after last mountain stage

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Chris Froome is, for all intents and purposes, 14 miles from his fourth Tour de France title.

The British rider finished fourth — 20 seconds behind winner Warren Barguil — atop the Col d’Izoard in the final mountain stage Thursday.

More importantly, Froome and Romain Bardet finished together, while Rigoberto Uran was two seconds behind them.

Froome entered the day with a 27-second lead over Bardet and Uran for the yellow jersey in the three-week stage race that ends Sunday.

Froome lost four seconds of his overall race lead to stage third-place finisher Romain Bardet due to Bardet’s time bonus. But neither Bardet nor Uran could mount a successful attack on Froome as they rode together up the nine-mile, highest-category climb to the finish.

“I thought I was going to suffocate as I crossed the line,” Bardet said, according to The Associated Press. “I have no regrets. I did everything I could.”

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Now, Froome leads by 23 seconds over Bardet and 29 seconds over Uran with three stages left. However, the overall standings should not be affected by Friday’s flat stage and Sunday’s ceremonial ride into Paris.

Bardet and Uran will try to gain time on Froome in a 14-mile individual time trial Saturday, but Froome is a stronger time trialist than Bardet and, at worst, similar to Uran. Plus, a short, 14-mile day is not much distance to make up the deficit.

“I tried to drop Uran and Bardet, but it was virtually impossible today,” Froome said, according to Cyclingnews.com, after attacking them with about a mile and a half left. “If everything goes well, I fancy my chances against the other guys in the time trial, but it’s still very close.”

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. His chances of becoming the first Frenchman to win the Tour since Hinault in 1985 — and ending the host nation’s longest victory drought — now appear very dim.

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

Stage 19 on Friday is the longest of this year’s Tour at 138 miles.

NBC Sports Gold coverage starts at 6:10 a.m. ET, with NBCSN coming on air at 7:30 a.m.

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Annemiek van Vleuten wins La Course with epic comeback (video)

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Annemiek van Vleuten, the cyclist who returned from a horrific Rio Olympic road race crash to become world champion, repeated as La Course winner with an epic last-kilometer comeback on Tuesday.

Van Vleuten sprinted from several seconds behind countrywoman Anna van der Breggen to win the one-day race, including four categorized climbs, contested on part of the Tour de France stage 10 course later that day.

“With 300 meters to go, I still thought I got second, and then I saw her dying,” Van Vleuten said, adding later, according to Cyclingnews.com, “With 500 meters to go my team director in the car gave up and stopped cheering for me.”

In Rio, van Vleuten suffered three small spine fractures and a concussion when her brakes appeared to lock, and she flipped over into a ditch during the road race. Van Vleuten was alone in the lead at the time with about seven miles to go of the 87-mile course.

She was eventually hospitalized in intensive care.

Van der Breggen went on to win the Olympic title, while van Vleuten returned quick enough to race at the October 2016 World Championships.

Van Vleuten, 35, won her first world title 13 months after the Rio Games, taking the time trial crown ahead of van der Breggen by 12 seconds. She also won the 10-stage Giro Rosa that concluded on Sunday.

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Greg Van Avermaet triples Tour de France lead in first mountain stage

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Belgian Greg Van Avermaet more than tripled his Tour de France overall lead in the first day in the mountains on Tuesday, but Wednesday may be his last day in the yellow jersey.

Julian Alaphilippe became the first Frenchman to win a stage in this year’s Tour, claiming the 10th stage that included three first-category climbs and a beyond-category climb but ended with a descent and the contenders together in the peloton.

Van Avermaet finished fourth, 1:44 behind Alaphilippe. More importantly, Van Avermaet crossed the Grand-Bornand finish line 1:39 ahead of a group that included most of the main contenders to top the podium in Paris on July 29.

The Olympic road race champion increased his overall lead from 43 seconds to 2:22.

Van Avermaet has worn the maillot jaune for a week straight, but he is not a climber, and the biggest test of the Tour thus far is imminent.

“No disrespect, but he’s not going to win the Tour,” said Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who is in second place.

The Tour continues with stage 11, live on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold on Wednesday (full broadcast schedule here). The 67-mile stage starts in the 1992 Winter Olympic host Albertville and includes two beyond-category climbs. It concludes with a category-one summit at La Rosière.

“Tomorrow’s a climber’s day,” Van Avermaet said. “It will be super hard to keep [the yellow jersey]. … Tomorrow it will be over.”

Chris Froome, eyeing a record-tying fifth Tour de France title, is best placed of the pre-Tour favorites.

Froome is in sixth place and 3:21 behind Van Avermaet. Froome is followed by Spaniard Mikel Landa in the same time and 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali another six seconds back.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran, the 2017 Tour runner-up, finished 2:36 behind the group with Froome, Landa and Nibali.

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