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Italian Fabio Aru remained defiant on Wednesday despite dropping from second to fourth at the Tour de France after struggling on the monster Galibier climb.
Aru held the race leader’s yellow jersey for two days last week but was caught out by poor positioning on Friday and gave up the race lead back to Chris Froome.
He remained second at 18sec but on Wednesday he couldn’t match the bursts of acceleration by Frenchman Romain Bardet and had lost 31sec to his yellow jersey rivals by the finish.
He now sits fourth at 53sec behind Froome, with Rigoberto Uran up to second at 27sec and just four hundredths of a second ahead of Bardet.
“I’ve lost (time) and I can’t be happy,” said the 27-year-old Astana rider.”
“But the Tour finishes on Sunday. It wasn’t a positive day, but this is cycling.”
“You also have to accept the days when you lose something. We were at a certain altitude, well over 2,000 metres when they attacked and I didn’t have the energy to respond.”
“Yesterday was tough, today also, tomorrow will be just as much.”
“I’ve lost (time) with respect to my direct rivals, but this is cycling and you need to accept it.”
Astana team manager Alexandre Vinokourov said Aru had merely lost “a small battle” while sports director Giuseppe Martinelli said the Sardinian would bounce back.
“He could have lost even more time, we saved ourselves,” he said.
“I believe in his powers of recovery — tomorrow there’s a summit finish and we’re still all there. He knows the Izoard and knows how to approach it.”
While Aru’s overall hopes diminished, Uran clawed back a couple of seconds from Froome after taking a bonus for finishing second.
“We’ve picked up some important seconds. We’ve gained time on Aru who is a top cyclist who has to be reckoned with right to the end,” said Uran, twice a former runner-up at the Giro d’Italia, but who never before had shined at the
“It was a good stage for me. We’re in the third week, going over a climb that’s 2,700 metres high. You have to know how to dig in and control things.”
Bardet lost four seconds to Froome and six to Uran in the bonuses on the line as he could finish only fourth in the 183km Alpine stage 17 won by Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic.
– ‘No regrets’ –
The 27-year-old Frenchman was the most aggressive rider amongst the overall contenders, attacking several times in the final kilometres of the Col du Galibier.
“I have no regrets. I did everything I could on the Galibier, it wasn’t far from coming off several times,” he said.
Briton Froome and Uran responded to every attack and Bardet complained that the Colombian was content to simply follow.
“He didn’t attack much today. He’s happy to just follow and take bonus seconds on the line.”
Reigning champion Froome suggested Uran, 30, is now his biggest rival ahead of the conclusive time-trial in Marseille on Saturday.
“Certainly, I think if the gaps remain as they did today, I think Rigoberto Uran will be my biggest threat for the time-trial, given that he’s probably the best time-trialist in that group.”
But first there is the matter of Thursday’s second straight Alpine stage and the uphill finish on the awesome Col d’Izoard.
And Froome will have his eye on his two closest rivals.
“Romain Bardet was very active on the Galibier today on the final climb.”
“Rigoberto Uran, if he moves (on Thursday) I’ll have to stick to him. I can’t give him an inch at this point.”
And he believes Bardet will have to attack again on Thursday is he has any hope of winning the yellow jersey.
“I think for Romain, he will have to take time before the time-trial in Marseille,” said Froome, 32.
“Fabio Aru lost a bit but this is the third week and everyone’s tired.”
“It’s never finished until Paris. We have to see tomorrow who’s got the legs to attack after a very difficult day today.”