Zakarin wins stage, Froome closes in on third Tour title

Finhaut-Emosson, July 20

Britain’s Chris Froome took another big step towards a third Tour de France title when he dropped his main rivals in the finale of the 17th stage, a 184-km mountain trek won by Russian Ilnur Zakarin today.

Froome (Team Sky) attacked inside the final two km in the last ascent, a punishing 10.4-km climb at an average gradient of 8.4 per cent and Dutchman Bauke Mollema, second overall, as well as last year’s runner-up Nairo Quintana, could not follow. The Briton finished on the wheel of former teammate Richie Porte (BMC), the Australian emerging as a potential podium finisher in Paris.

Froome extended his lead over Mollema to 2:27 and compatriot Adam Yates (Orica) to 2:53. Colombian Quintana (Movistar), who has been lacking his usual stamina in the long climbs, is fourth, 3:27 off the pace after losing 28sec to Froome when he was expected to attack.

The decisive move was made by Porte, who jumped away from the favourites’ group about 2km from the line, with Froome the only rider able to follow him thanks to a short but brutal acceleration. Porte climbed from seventh to sixth overall, 4:27 off the pace taking sole leadership at BMC after Tejay van Garderen cracked in the penultimate climb of a gruelling day in the Swiss Alps.

Frenchman Romain Bardet continued his fine Tour, moving up one spot to fifth at 4:15 ahead of Thursday’s 18th stage, a brutal 17-km uphill time trial from Sallanches to Megeve.

Poland’s Rafal Majka and Colombian Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling), winner of the 15th stage, attacked the leading group in the descent. They were joined in the final climb by Zakarin, who jumped away 6.5km from the finish, followed by Pantano. The Russian went again with 5.8km left and never looked back, his medallion tapping on his bare chest until he managed to zip up his jersey before crossing the line, his face a mask of pain, for a first Tour stage win.