The Latest: Lance Armstrong weighs in on Froome’s stage win
LA PIERRE-SAINT-MARTIN, France (AP) — The Latest from the 10th Stage of the Tour de France (all times local):
Lance Armstrong took notice of Chris Froome’s big day at the Tour de France and provoked some quick reaction on Twitter when he raised a hypothetical question about cheating.
Froome and Sky teammate Richie Porte dominated the Pyrenees mountain stage, prompting Armstrong to post a series of tweets: “Getting lots of questions regarding today’s first mountain stage...” and “Clearly Froome/Porte/Sky are very strong. Too strong to be clean? Don’t ask me, I have no clue.”
It was a provocative question from a rider whose domination of the Tour de France from 1999-2005 was wiped from the record books for using performance-enhancing drugs in each victory. Critics swiftly noted his past cheating.
“I’m not accusing anyone,” Armstrong quickly responded. “In fact, quite the opposite. I’m not interested (nor do I have the credibility) to opine there.”
Froome, the 2013 Tour champion, holds the yellow jersey as race leader. Like Armstrong in his heyday, Froome left several top rivals behind in the key mountain stage.
Two-time Tour de France champion Alberto Contador says current leader Chris Froome is simply “at a higher level” than the rest of the pack right now.
“Froome is superior, and he made a strong punch today,” said Contador after he lost 2 minutes, 51 seconds to the Kenya-born Briton, who won Tuesday’s 10th stage. Overall, he trails 4:04 back in sixth place. “That’s bike racing: Some days good, some days bad,” Contador added.
The Spaniard’s bad day was partly due to breathing troubles on the 167-kilometer (104-mile) course from Tarbes to the mountain resort of La Pierre-Saint-Martin.
“When you can’t breathe well, you can’t keep up a high rhythm in the legs,” grumbled the Tinkoff Saxo Bank leader outside his team bus.
On the day’s final climb, Spain’s Alejandro Valverde led the first attack against Team Sky leader Chris Froome at the request of his Movistar teammate Nairo Quintana of Colombia.
The show of panache from the Spanish veteran — while short-lived against a dominant Sky train — injected the first drama on the stage’s big climb to La Pierre-Saint-Martin, before Froome sped ahead and obliterated the field.
Referring to Valverde’s attack, Movistar manager Eusebio Unzue said: “Nairo asked him to (attack), to try his chances.
“But the leader, he was really just very, very strong,” added Unzue of Froome. “Losing three minutes against a rider with the experience, quality and team of Froome is tough. But the Tour’s very hard, and it’s possible to have one bad day...”
Just as when he won in 2013, Chris Froome has used the first high-mountain stage of the Tour de France to stamp his authority on the race, accelerating from hapless rivals on the final punishing climb of Stage 10 in the Pyrenees.
His win at the La Pierre-Saint-Martin ski station puts him firmly in the driving seat with 11 stages to go to the finish in Paris, and leaves his main rivals trailing by time gaps likely impossible to make up unless he crashes, falls ill, or has an unexpected off-day.
Froome put the hammer down with six kilometers (four miles) left to climb, with a fierce burst of acceleration that left the last top contender with him, 2013 runner-up Nairo Quintana, unable to respond.
Froome also won the first high-mountain stage in 2013 on his way to his first Tour victory.
Italian rider Ivan Basso will undergo surgery so doctors can examine a lesion in his left testicle that prompted his withdrawal from the Tour de France over fears he might have testicular cancer.
The Tinkoff Saxo Bank team says the 37-year-old veteran will undergo surgery in Milan on Wednesday “to clarify the nature of the problem.”
The team said Tuesday that experts indicated that Basso’s “testicular lesion” had no link to his sports activity. A day earlier, Basso announced that he had cancer in his left testicle, which had turned up after he felt pain following a crash during Stage 5.
Team spokesman Pierre Orphanidis later explained that more tests were needed to confirm whether Basso has testicular cancer, but “the probabilities are very high.”
Astana rider Lars Boom, who won a muddy, scrappy stage over cobblestones in last year’s Tour de France, has dropped out of this year’s race because of a high fever.
Race organizers say the 29-year-old Dutchman has had a high fever for the last two days.
Boom had been at the center of controversy before the start. The Movement for Credible Cycling, which applies stricter anti-doping measures than cycling’s governing body or the World Anti-Doping Agency, said it had temporarily suspended Astana after pre-race tests showed Boom had an abnormally low cortisol level. Such low readings can indicate cortisone doping but is not conclusive proof of doping.
Boom won Stage 5 in last year’s Tour, the same day that 2013 Tour winner Chris Froome crashed out of the race. Astana rider Vincenzo Nibali went on to win the 2014 Tour.
Chris Froome, the 2013 Tour de France winner, has come under renewed scrutiny about the exceptional power he applies to his pedals.
Speaking to reporters, Sky Team general manager Dave Brailsford said the British squad believes “someone has hacked into our training data and got Chris’ files.”
Riders have power meters that measure how much power they produce, their heart rates, and other data that teams use to analyze their performances.
Most riders, including at Sky, don’t tend to make the data public. Brailsford’s fear is that critics who suspect Froome of doping — something he’s always adamantly denied — may try to interpret the readings to back up their claims.
A video briefly posted online late Monday showed what appeared to be second-by-second readings of the power that Froome produced on his winning climb of Mont Ventoux in 2013.
Froome has never tested positive in a sport long plagued by drug cheats.
Brailsford brushed off the speculation about his star rider.
“It’s part of the game, isn’t it?” Brailsford said. “If he does well (on Tuesday), the rest of the Tour, it’s, ‘How do you know he’s not doping?’”
Chris Froome is wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey as the Tour de France pack has set off for the first of three days of tough climbs in the Pyrenees.
The Kenya-born Briton has a 12-second lead over Tejay van Garderen in what’s expected to be a shakeout among the top contenders over the 167-kilometer (104-mile) trek from southwestern Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint-Martin — the first time the 112-year-old race has visited the mountain resort.
Tuesday’s 10th stage takes riders along a rolling, hilly course until the big final climb, one of the hardest in pro cycling. Mountain-climbing specialists, including two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador, who is 1 minute, 3 seconds behind Froome in fifth, and Nairo Quintana, in ninth, will be looking for chances to wrest Froome’s yellow jersey.
Many French flags are lining the course route for France’s Bastille Day national holiday.