By Julien Pretot
VILLARS-LES-DOMBES, France (Reuters) – Having taken time off his rivals on all terrains, Chris Froome is waiting for Nairo Quintana to deliver on his promise that he would launch an attack in the third week of the Tour de France.
Briton Froome, who increased his overall lead when he took second place in Friday’s individual time trial, is in a strong position ahead of a grueling third week in the Alps.
The Team Sky rider leads second-placed Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) by 1:47 and fourth-placed Quintana (Movistar) of Colombia by 2:59.
“I’ve got breathing space in the GC (general classification) but Paris is still far,” Froome told reporters after Saturday’s 14th stage, which he finished safely in the main bunch.
“Quintana says he will attack. I’m waiting,” he added.
“I have no doubt that he will attack in the Alps if the last two times (2013 and 2015) are anything to go by, he goes really well in the third week.”
Last year, Quintana played a waiting game despite trailing Froome early on, really making his move in the final mountain stage in the ascent of l’Alpe d’Huez, Froome hanging on for dear life despite suffering from a cold.
Froome is wary of the threat the Movistar team could pose as Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who finished third overall behind Quintana last year, has already attacked.
“Valverde seems to be going extremely well,” said Froome.
The defending champion, however, has been a cut above the two, attacking them in a descent, on the flat, hammering them in the time trial and gaining time in Thursday’s farcical finale on Mont Ventoux when Froome was seen running up the road after his bike was broken in an incident with a motorbike.
If he looks over his shoulder, Froome will first see Mollema, who was, along with his former team mate Richie Porte, the only rider to hold his wheel on the Ventoux.
“For me personally I need to keep a close eye on Bauke Mollema now. At the moment I have to treat him as my biggest rival,” he said.
If they don’t wait for the only mountain-top finish remaining in the three-week race, Quintana and company will have a first opportunity to unsettle Froome and his Sky team on Sunday in the 15th stage, a grueling Alpine trek featuring two ascents of the punishing Col du Grand Colombier.
“It’s not a mountain-top finish but it’s not to be underestimated. It’s a key stage,” he said.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman)