Tour de France 2013: Chris Froome takes Stage 17, focus turns to Alps

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“Just in terms of the safety of the riders, I think that has to come first,” Froome said.

That eventuality was ruled out by Jean-Francois Pescheux, the event director.

“This is the Tour de France. Rain hasn’t ever stopped the Tour de France. It would have to really be a natural catastrophe that blocked the road or something like that,” he told The Associated Press.

“Rain isn’t the enemy of the cyclist — it’s part of the sport!”

It was certainly part of Wednesday’s time trial, but not as much as initially feared. While it did rain on parts of the course, the forecast storms hit only after Stage 17 finished. That was a relief because the route went up two climbs in the mountains above the man-made Serre-Poncon lake. The twisting descents could have been terribly treacherous if wetter.

Froome covered the 32 kilometers (20 miles) in 51 minutes, 33.66 seconds.

“I went into today thinking: ‘OK, I’m going to give this a really good shot, but I’m not going to empty myself,” Froome said. “I really expected to lose at least 30 seconds to a minute to some of the best riders.”

Contador’s gutsy ride bumped him up from third to second in the overall standings, although he is more than four minutes back from Froome.

“When you are second, it’s easier to get to first place,” Contador said hopefully. “But it’s true that he is very strong.”

Bauke Mollema dropped from second to fourth overall. The Dutch rider went too fast into a right-hand bend, slapped into the barriers and briefly came to a stop.

Some riders chose road bikes for the tough course. Contador opted for a time trial bike with an aerodynamic back wheel. Froome used both — switching from an adapted road bike to a time trial bike for the final descent into the town of Chorges.

“The first bike was more adapted to climbing,” Froome said. “The second bike was a little faster.”

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