British cyclists take over Tour de France during 1st week
ANDORRA LA VELLA, ANDORRA >> Chris Froome has the yellow jersey, Mark Cavendish has won three sprint stages, and Adam Yates sits second in the overall standings. It has been a very successful start to the Tour de France for British cyclists.
"It's definitely not a fluke," Froome said on Monday as the peloton enjoyed its first rest day, following nine stages which saw Froome's Team Sky stamping its authority on the race.
With Froome's victory at Bagneres-de-Luchon and Steve Cummings' solo breakaway to the Lac de Payolle, it's not exaggerating to say that British riders have taken over the Tour this summer. They have won five out of nine stages so far, and can reasonably hope for a second 1-2 in the space of four years on the Champs-Elysees.
No other nation has won more than one stage this year.
"You look at how far British cycling has come during the last few years," said Froome, who was runner-up to countryman Bradley Wiggins in 2012 then won the race in 2013 and 2015. "It's not just by chance. There has been a plan, there have been structures, riders of talent."
Competing in only his second Tour, the 23-year-old Yates is leading the next generation of British cyclists. Yates holds the white jersey for best young rider and is just 16 seconds behind Froome overall. After winning the Tour of Turkey in 2014, and the San Sebastian single-day classic last year, he is already being tipped as a future winner of a major Tour.
Yates joined the Orica squad with that goal in mind, but said he would focus on stage wins this year while also trying to keep up with Froome and Nairo Quintana.
The strategy has been working well so far, and he's seven seconds ahead of Quintana, the Colombian climber who is in fourth place.
Irish rider Dan Martin is third overall, 19 seconds behind Froome.
"They already have shown themselves as contenders," Froome said of Yates and Martin. "If they can do what they've done in the first half, then they'll be on the podium come Paris. But three weeks is a long time. It is a difference between riding a week-long race and a Grand Tour. But so far, they've shown no weaknesses in that respect."
The other big satisfaction of the week for British cycling has been Cavendish. At 31, the "Manx Missile" has rediscovered his instinct and burst of speed courtesy of the hard track training he put himself through as part of his preparations for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where he will be competing in the omnium.
With 29 stage wins under his belt, Cavendish is second on the all-time list of Tour stage winners, five behind Eddy Merckx's record of 34, and one ahead of Bernard Hinault.
Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford said the main reason behind Britain's dominance dates to nearly 20 years ago, when the National Lottery started to invest millions of pounds into British sport federations.
"Britain has invested heavily in lower ranks," Brailsford said. "It does not happen overnight."
Here are some other things learned during the first week of the Tour:
NO RIVALS FOR SKY
There is just one team controlling the race this year, and it's Froome's Team Sky.
Riders from the British outfit protected Froome in the early flat stages, kept him safe from crashes at the front of the pack, then set the pace in the Pyrenees.
The fast tempo they impose in every big ascent prevents Froome's main rivals from attacking, and eventually makes them crack. Among the pre-race favorites, BMC's Tejay van Garderen has already lost 1:01 to Froome, and Astana's Fabio Aru trails by 1:23.
"If they want to just sit on our wheel and wait until the end and try and catch us, if that's the way they want to try and win the Tour de France, that's fine by me" Brailsford said. "But if nobody else is going to try and take control then we will."
Seen as the main threat to Froome's ambition to secure a third Tour win, Nairo Quintana has been fairly discreet.
Twice runner-up to Froome, the diminutive climber was expected to attack in the Pyrenees. After being caught off guard by Froome's downhill attack, he took an extremely conservative approach in the climb to Arcalis, sat on Froome's back wheel and did not try anything that could have destabilized the Tour champion.
In 2013 and 2015, Quintana managed to gain time on Froome in the closing stages of the Tour. His Movistar team insists there is still a long way to go before the race reaches Paris and that Quintana will have plenty of opportunities to challenge Froome, especially at Mont Ventoux or in the Alps.
BARDET IN THE MIX
With Thibault Pinot out of contention, the French hopes of producing a first home Tour winner in 31 years hang on Romain Bardet's shoulders.
There has been no French champion since Bernard Hinault's fifth victory in 1985.
Sixth overall, 44 seconds behind Froome, Bardet had never enjoyed such a good start. And he is not impressed by Sky.
"It boosts my confidence," Bardet said. "Sky is a very powerful team, but I expected them to be stronger (Sunday), Froome was a bit left on his own in the finale. Everything is possible."
AP Sports Writer Andrew Dampf contributed to this story.
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