CHORGES, France — Even when he expects to lose, Tour de France leader Chris Froome cannot help but win. He’s that strong, and he’s making it look easy.
On a day when the British rider planned to save some energy for upcoming mountains, Froome still brushed aside the field and took his third stage win of the 100th Tour.
Alberto Contador, still trying to make a fight of this one-sided battle, gave his all in Wednesday’s Alpine time trial. The Spanish rider’s face contorted in a grimace of effort as he sprinted out of the saddle to the line, while spectators whipped up a thunderclap of noise by banging their fists on the barriers.
Froome, having set off behind Contador, sped in a few moments later. He, too, rode hard but looked more comfortable with his easy-on-the-eye pedaling style, perched on his saddle, legs pumping like pistons in an ocean liner’s engine room.
Contador shook his head and shrugged his shoulders when the television flashed that Froome beat his time by 9 seconds.
This was another opportunity lost for Contador — second in the overall standings, 4 minutes, 34 seconds back — to make victory for Froome on Sunday in Paris at least feel less inevitable.
“Froome is in impressive shape,” said Contador, the 2007 and ’09 winner who was stripped of his 2010 victory for a failed doping test.
The last Tour champion — now ex-champion — to carry as many stage wins as Froome to Paris was Lance Armstrong. That was in 2004, when Armstrong won five stages and declared he would be giving “no gifts” to his rivals.
That is all just a bad memory now. This Tour is the first since the serial doper’s name was erased last year from the race’s honor roll.
Froome swears that won’t happen with him. He has said he is riding clean — an assurance that has limited value in the poisonous atmosphere of doubt that is a legacy of the Armstrong years.
“The problem today is that we are traumatized by the past,” said Stephane Heulot, manager of the French Sojasun team. “We’ve seen too many stories like this. We’ve seen too many riders swearing on the heads of their kids, their grandmothers, their mothers that they’re completely clean, and then — bam! — 15 years, 10 years, five years later, we’re told other things. Someone’s word no longer means anything. We can’t rely on that.”
A union that represents about 600 professional riders from seven European nations supported Froome on Wednesday against what it called “unjustified allegations of doping.”
“It’s not fair to blame someone without evidence against him,” Gianni Bugno, president of the Association of Professional Riders, said in a statement.
“We demand more respect for Chris and for all the riders.”
In three days, as long as he gets through the Alps, Froome will be able to sip champagne in the saddle on the final ride to the Champs-Elysees, unusually staged in the evening this year.
That would make it two victories in a row for Britain and for Team Sky, after Bradley Wiggins’ win last year.