BERN, Switzerland — 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 minute, 47 seconds and fellow Briton Adam Yates by 2:45.
Froome’s main rival, Colombia’s 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.
Quintana and Froome will not have to worry about any challenges from one of the Tour’s top riders, Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who pulled out of the race Tuesday to manage his workload ahead of the Rio Olympics, his Dimension Data team said.
“After analyzing his workload from the previous stages and his current levels of fatigue, the team has supported Mark leaving the Tour to give him the best opportunity to recover and prepare for the Olympic Games in Rio,” it said.
Cavendish claimed his 30th Tour de France stage victory and fourth in this year’s race in Saturday’s 14th stage but he will not now be starting stage 17 on Wednesday.
The Manx Missile, who has been back in the limelight after three below-par Tours, enjoyed wins on stages 1, 3, 6 and 14 and is now four shy of the record held by Belgian great Eddy Merckx.
The 31-year-old Cavendish, who had not won more than three stages on the Tour since 2011, attributed his success in this year’s race partly to his track preparation for the Olympics.
“After an extremely enjoyable and successful couple of weeks at The Tour de France with Team Dimension Data, it is with great sadness that I took the decision today to leave the race,” Cavendish said in the South African-based team’s statement.
“After the heat and intensity of the previous stages, we analysed my fatigue levels and decided I’m at a point that would have a detrimental effect on my other big goal for the year, the Olympic Games,” he added.
As well as enjoying four stage wins, Cavendish also wore the overall leader’s yellow jersey for the first time and carried the green jersey for the points classification into the first rest day in Andorra.
“Mark is really sad to leave the tour, we are committed to support him in his dream goal of receiving a medal for Britain at the Rio Olympic Games,” said team principal Douglas Ryder.
The Olympics start on Aug. 5