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Tour leader Froome has spat with rival rider on road

John Leicester
Associated Press

La Toussuire, France — Chris Froome always expected his rivals to throw everything at him and his Tour de France race lead. He just didn’t expect that would happen when he was stopped by the side of the road.

Showing bristle beneath his mild manners, the British rider angrily tore into Vincenzo Nibali, calling him “unsportsmanlike,” after the defending champion accelerated away while Froome was fixing a stuck wheel on the toughest Alpine climb on Friday.

Nibali, who went on to win Stage 19, said: “He was very angry but that’s his problem.”

Froome said a stone or piece of asphalt jammed between his brake and rear wheel on the Col de la Croix de Fer climb, forcing him to pull up momentarily to unjam it.

While Froome stopped, Nibali rode away.

Those weren’t the only fireworks on the exhausting Alpine stage that moved Froome one step closer to a second Tour victory.

On the stage’s final climb to the La Toussuire ski station, Nairo Quintana launched his most sustained and telling attack against the 2013 champion, and this time got the better of him.

Showing for the first time at this Tour that he’s not untouchable, Froome chose not to stay with the Colombian, his closest rival, as he rode away, eating into the Team Sky rider’s overall race lead.

Froome said he preferred to save energy for today’s last Alpine stage, which features two very hard climbs. So rather than hunt down the Movistar rider, Froome rode steadily, telling himself: “I don’t need to panic but I do need to keep something in reserve.”

He didn’t hold back on Nibali.

At the finish, “I told him exactly what I thought of him,” Froome said.

Froome’s reduced lead of 2 minutes, 38 seconds over Quintana, down from 3:10 at the start, should still be enough to get the British rider through the last competitive day in the Alps before the final stage to Paris on Sunday, which is largely ceremonial and won’t change the overall podium standings.

Still, the smaller cushion will force Froome to watch Quintana carefully and means he cannot afford a bad day on the two “Hors Categorie” climbs, meaning they’re so tough they defy categorization.

“It’s the final test,” Froome said.

Tour de France

19th Stage: The pack faced four climbs including the Croix de Fer pass — one of the hardest ascents in cycling — and an uphill finish at the La Toussuire ski station in a 138-kilometer (86-mile) course from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.

Winner: Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, the defending Tour champion.

Yellow jersey: Chris Froome, who maintains a 2 minute, 38 second lead over Nairo Quintana.

Today’s stage: The pack covers 110.5 kilometers (68.6 miles) from Modane Valfrejus back over the Croix de Fer pass and a finish up the fabled Alpe d’Huez.