Froome walked into the small gravel parking lot outside the Hotel L’Ermitage with views of the Notre Dame of Le Puy-en-Velay, a town know for its rock-perched cathedral and where stage 15 ended on Sunday ahead of Monday’s rest day.
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“That’s exactly it,” Froome said when asked about Urán being a danger-man. “Rigoberto Urán flies under the radar a bit because he doesn’t have a whole team at the front controlling the race for him, but he’s finished second in the Giro d’Italia before, he’s certainly capable of backing up three weeks.”
Sky know the 30-year-old Colombian well. The one they joked with, calling him Mick Jagger due to the physical similarities, raced for three years with the British team. After years of trying with Bradley Wiggins, Richie Porte and Mikel Landa, Urán’s second place in 2013 remains Sky’s best result in the Giro.
“He seems to be in great shape,” Froome continued. “From that GC group, he’s probably one of the best time trialists. At this point, I think Rigoberto is set to be on the podium and to challenge me for the yellow jersey.”
The overall classification is the tightest-packed at this point in the race since 1951. Froome leads with 18 seconds on Fabio Aru (Astana), 23 on Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and 29 on Urán. Aru looks the strongest, but Bardet has the best team.
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“Rigoberto Urán is more of the dark horse that slips under the radar,” Froome continued. “He is probably the strongest time trialist of the GC riders, and with Marseille in mind, he’s a big threat as well.”
Froome went through a mix-zone created for television journalists. Unusually, he did not sit for a long, typically a 40-minute press conference as he and other leaders have done in past Tours.
When the time ended, he left with his seven team-mates to train on the local roads and prepare for the final six stages and challenge ahead.
“No [I’m not surprised the classification is close]. When I got to Düsseldorf for the start of the Tour, I said then that this would be the biggest challenge of my career, the hardest-fought battle of my career so far,” Froome said.
“Each rival presents different threats, if you look at Fabio Aru, he won the first mountain-top finish on Planche des belles Filles. He perhaps didn’t have a good day a couple of days ago, but he’s been strong in the third week before.
“Bardet has always been strong in the last week of a Grand Tour and he also has the team to back him up. As we saw yesterday, he put me under a lot of pressure yesterday.
“I’m certainly not going to give any seconds away for free, but as I had a bad day in the Pyrenees, it could be the case again in the Alps. I’m feeling better and better as the race goes on. I felt pretty good yesterday. Hopefully that’s a sign of timing things right coming into the Tour really fresh. I hope that this week I’ll be at my best.”