Tour de France: Froome calls to shorten Alpe d’Huez

Chris Froome is cheered on by a flag'waving British supporter during yesterday's 17th stage of the Tour de France. Picture: AP
Chris Froome is cheered on by a flag'waving British supporter during yesterday's 17th stage of the Tour de France. Picture: AP
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CHRIS Froome has called on Tour de France organisers to shorten today’s showpiece double ascent of the Alpe d’Huez if forecast thunderstorms strike.

Although race director Jean-Francois Pescheux denied there was any possibility of the 100th Tour’s signature stage being shortened, Froome said rider safety had to come first and existing concerns over the descent of the Col de Sarenne – which separates the two climbs of the famed Alpe d’Huez – have only increased amid the weather forecasts.

“It would be sad not to do the planned parcours and the two ascents of Alpe d’Huez as it’s something special to go along with the 100th Tour de France,” Tour leader Froome said after increasing his advantage over Alberto Contador with victory in yesterday’s time trial.

“But having said that, safety definitely comes first. It’s a dangerous descent but if it starts raining I would hope the race organisers make the decision to make it just one climb. The safety of riders has to come first.”

The inclusion of the Sarenne has long been controversial, with several riders speaking out in the build-up to the Tour after riding on the route either in training or during its trial in the Criterium du Dauphine last month.

Tony Martin branded the route “irresponsible” before the start of this Tour, while Andy Schleck said he “could not understand” why riders were being asked to use it.

The road is narrow and twisty, devoid of safety barriers and with a worn surface.

Froome’s Sky team-mate ­Geraint Thomas admitted to having a few concerns but said it was up to the riders to make the race safe.

“We did it in the Dauphine and it didn’t look like there was too much over the side,” he said. “Apparently there are a few big drops. But it’s like the bunch sprints. Some people complain about the roads then, and it comes down to how we race it as bike riders.

“As long as we’re sensible we’ll be okay. If somebody wants to attack going down that would be crazy because there is still the valley road and the Alpe d’Huez to come again.”

That double ascent of the Alpe d’Huez is the key – a major spectacle Tour organisers will not cancel unless presented with no other option.

The 21 hairpins of the Alpe d’Huez have become one of the most familiar images of the Tour in recent years.

Although the climb did not make its Tour debut until 1952 and then did not feature again until 1964, it has been a ­mainstay on the route since 1976, the ­famous bends providing a ­natural amphitheatre filled with hundreds of thousands of fans who camp out for days in ­anticipation.

Crowds are notoriously hard to measure on the mountain, with estimates ranging anywhere between a few hundred thousand to a million, but a bumper crowd is guaranteed tomorrow given the chance to see the riders climb towards the heavens not once but twice.

Whether or not those heavens are raining down on them at the same time remains to be seen. And while Froome would be happy to see the stage shortened in that event, he insisted he would not hide away if made to ride the course in full. “I ­completely understand that all the riders will be in the same conditions,” said the 28-year-old. “If we have to do the dangerous descent in the wet we’ll be up for it.”

Froome’s nine-second victory over Contador increased his overall advantage over the Spaniard – who moved up to second in the general classification – to four minutes and 34 seconds.

Contador led through each of the individual time checks along the way, but where Froome chose to switch to a time trial bike midway through the stageContador stuck to his road bike for the finish and lost 20 seconds over the final 12 kilometres of the 32km.

Bauke Mollema finished more than two minutes off Froome’s time and dropped from second to fourth overall, behind Contador and Roman Kreuziger.

Froome’s victory makes him only the second Briton to win more than two stages of a single Tour, while the other – Mark Cavendish – was happy to finish more than seven and a half minutes off the pace in 160th place after suffering from an upset stomach yesterday.