BOURG-EN-BRESSE, France, July 17- Chris Froome will be on his guard for attacks from his rivals on Sunday as the Tour de France returns to the mountains with two ascents of the Grand Colombier.
The mountain, whose peak offers stunning views of the Alps, will actually be climbed one and a half times, firstly up its usual route and then up the ‘laces’.
The second ascent, which will peak at just under 900-metres before the descent to the finish at Culoz, is breathtakingly beautiful with a series of switchbacks known in France as ‘laces’.
The 15th stage is relatively short at just 160km but there is barely a single metre of flat road, meaning it will be one of the toughest days yet on the Tour.
There are six categorised climbs and numerous uncategorised ones, but the toughest test will come at the end with the hors category ascent to the Grand Colombier summit at 1,500m, followed by a fast descent before the first category climb of the same mountain’s laces.
Although not offering an uphill finish, there will be a chance for time to be gained.
With a week to go before the race finale in Paris, Froome thinks this is where Quintana, currently fourth at 2min 59sec, will start to push for Tour glory.
“I have a little bit of breathing space now in the overall standings but it’s a long way to go to Paris,” the defending champion said
“We’ve got all the stages in the Alps — they’re very hard this year.
“Quintana said he’ll attack in the last week — I’m waiting for it.”
Despite clearly fearing the Colombian the most, Froome insisted his biggest challenge would come from Dutchman Bauke Mollema, who is second in the standings at 1:47.
“He’s ridden extremely well,” said Briton Froome.
“He was there on Ventoux when I attacked with Richie (Porte); he did a very good time-trial; I’ve got to consider him my biggest rival.”
Yet Mollema himself seems more interested in fighting for a podium finish and defending his position, rather than attacking Froome.
He may be in second, but the next four riders are within 1:32 of him.
“(Sunday) is another very important day; it will be a day of focus to not lose any time,” said Mollema.
Porte is a bit further back at 2:40 behind Mollema in eighth place, but the Australian has been happy with his climbing at this Tour and is eager to test his legs again.
The time he’s lost so far came from a late puncture on the second stage that cost him 1:45 and a disappointing time-trial on Friday.
“It’s nice to get back into the mountains (on Sunday) and we’ll just see what happens,” said the BMC rider.
“It’s a very hard stage so we’ll see how everyone is after (Saturday).”