By Julien Pretot
BERN (Reuters) – Nairo Quintana is expected to be at his best for the final week of the Tour de France, which feature four stages in the Alps, but Chris Froome says he has never been better going into a grand tour decider.
“I feel more ready for the third week than I have been in previous editions,” Froome said on the second rest day of the Tour on Tuesday. The Team Sky rider leads Dutchman Bauke Mollema by 1:47 and fellow Briton Adam Yates by 2:45.
His main rival, Colombian Nairo Quintana, is fourth overall, 2:59 off the pace.
Wednesday’s 17th stage takes the peloton to a summit finish in Finhaut-Emosson, Switzerland, before an uphill time trial on Thursday, another mountaintop finish in Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc on Friday and a grueling mountain stage to Morzine on Saturday, ahead of Sunday’s parade to the Champs Elysees.
Although he is anticipating attacks from his opponents, especially from Quintana, Froome believes the first two weeks of racing have been particularly tiring.
“I am asked why guys didn’t attack two stages ago (in the 14th stage of Culoz) but Fabio Aru, Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet did. Other people are tired,” said the defending champion, who is looking to become the first rider to retain his title since Miguel Indurain in 1995.
“I think that one of the main reasons we’ve not seen massive attacks is the level of fatigue. At the moment everyone is nailed.”
Quintana was on the attack twice in the Ventoux stage last week, but he was quickly reined in by Froome’s team mates, which made the Movistar rider look pretty much toothless.
Last year, Froome entered the final week with a 3:10 lead over Quintana, and the Colombian threatened a comeback in the final mountain stage to l’Alpe d’Huez, but it was too little, too late.
“Last year he made up a lot of time in the final week, and I expect he’s gonna to be one of the main guys putting us under pressure these next few days,”said Froome, who is much less worried by his compatriot, the 23-year-old Yates.
“I wouldn’t look at him in the same light as Nairo Quintana. He’s quietly doing his thing. I wouldn’t expect him to attack in the big mountain stages,” he said.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot, Editing by Angus MacSwan)