Mont Ventoux loses some of its luster with shortened route
MONTPELLIER, France (AP) The mountain battle between Nairo Quintana and defending Tour de France champion Chris Froome in the grueling climb to the top of Mont Ventoux might not happen after all.
Forecasts of more than 100 kph (62 mph) winds and temperatures as low as 4 degrees Celsius (39 F) at the top of the ''Giant of Provence'' have forced organizers to move the finish line of Thursday's stage six kilometers (3.7 miles) down the road to the Chalet Reynard.
Ventoux is one of the most famed climbs in the Tour's history. Britain's Tom Simpson collapsed and died on it during the 1967 Tour after he used a lethal cocktail of amphetamines and alcohol.
Froome was the stage winner when the Tour last scaled the 1,909-meter (6,263-foot) peak in 2013, gaining 29 seconds on Quintana that day.
''Tomorrow I would have liked the stage to go to the top because it's an ideal climb for me,'' Quintana said. ''But anyway, there are still lots of days and mountains for me.''
With the climb now reduced by half its length, the stage should have less importance in the fight for the yellow jersey, although Tour director Christian Prudhomme promised a ''big battle'' in the rarefied air of the high peak.
''It's still a superb climb, on its steepest ramps,'' Prudhomme said. ''The Ventoux is a myth and a legend of the Tour de France, but we can't gamble with the riders' safety.''
Froome, who has a 35-second lead over fourth-place Quintana overall, welcomed the decision that will shorten the ascent to 15.5 kilometers on roads well enough protected from the wind by trees.
''It's better for the riders' safety,'' Froome said Wednesday after gaining 12 seconds on all of his direct rivals following a great tactical move in the finale in Montpellier. ''I don't think it really changes too much, the climb to Chalet Reynard is extremely hard already. I think it's going to be an even more intense race once we hit the climb because it's shorter.''
Froome has been seizing every opportunity to gain distance on his rivals this year, even attacking downhill for the first time of his career in the Pyrenees last week. Quintana, on the other hand, has been very conservative so far and was expected to make his first big move at the Ventoux.
''I'd love to win on Ventoux, where some of the legendary riders in cycling have won,'' said Quintana, who finished runner-up to Froome at the Tour in 2013 and 2015. ''But Froome is also strong. We have to see how the other rivals are. We don't want to lose our heads, and use up our strength, and then let others take advantage.
French climbing specialists Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot have also circled this stage for special attention. Besides containing one of the race's most famous climbs, the stage will be held on Bastille Day, which celebrates the storming of the Bastille prison by Parisians during the French Revolution.