LE GRAND-BORNAND, France — Half the height of Mount Everest, climbed on a bike, in a single day. Even by Tour de France standards, Stage 19 was hard.
“At times, you just feel like you’re being tortured,” was how American rider Andrew Talansky described Friday’s ordeal — arguably the toughest stage of the 100th Tour — that started with two monster climbs as riders were still digesting breakfast.
“You’re just like, ‘What is this?’ But you dig in and keep going.”
The GPS minicomputer the Garmin rider carries on his bike did the sums: 14,498 feet ridden uphill — close to the height of Western Europe’s loftiest peak, Mont Blanc, and half of Everest, the roof of the world at 29,035 feet.
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The riders also zoomed 13,907 feet downhill. Talansky’s gizmo showed he burned 5,670 calories during the six-hour suffer-fest.
Rui Costa won the stage — the Portuguese rider’s second of this Tour — with a solo breakaway on the final ascent to the Col de la Croix Fry, catching Frenchman Pierre Roland on the way up.
The difficulty of Stage 19 made Chris Froome “quite nervous.” Once he got through it with his big race lead intact, the British rider started to allow his mind to fast-forward to the finish on Sunday.
Victory is so close he can almost taste the Champagne. The last Alpine stage on Saturday — 77 miles in the mountains towering above the limpid waters of Lake Annecy — won’t be enough for second-place Alberto Contador to puncture Froome’s cushion of more than five minutes. In all but name, the 28-year-old is champion of the 100th Tour and knows it.
“One more day to really stay concentrated and to stay up front and look after the yellow jersey and then looking forward to taking it to Paris,” said Froome, who was runner-up last year.
Sunday evening, Froome and the other survivors of this three-week, 2,115-mile clockwise trek will clip their feet into the pedals for the final 82 miles to Paris.
Traditionally, that last stage is a relaxed lap of honor, at least until the pack hits the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees. There, sprint-finish specialists will battle for the stage win on that leafy boulevard the French modestly call the most beautiful avenue in the world. The unique dusk finish for this 100th Tour, just as the sun sets behind the Arc de Triomphe, should be extra special.
While the top spot is taken, podium places next to Froome are still up for grabs. Just 47 seconds separate second-place Contador from Joaquim Rodriguez in fifth.
Sandwiched between those Spaniards are Colombian Nairo Quintana, in third, and Contador’s Czech teammate Roman Kreuziger, in fourth. They are all more than five minutes behind Froome.
• Gerrit Keats of Clearwater, Fla., and Robert Hutchins of Sandy, Utah, were arrested and charged with directing separate threats toward U.S. Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart in the aftermath of USADA’s decision to strip Lance Armstrong of his Tour de France titles. The charges carry up to a five-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
Asked if he remembered any specific threats, Tygart said, “The worst was probably puttin’ a bullet in my head.”
• Former cycling world champion Alessandro Ballan and 2004 Giro d’Italia winner Damiano Cunego are among 27 people indicted in Italy on doping charges. The case mainly involves past and present members of the Lampre team.