AX 3 DOMAINES, France — Chris Froome used the first tough mountain stage to take command of the Tour de France on Saturday, leaving two-time champion Alberto Contador and other challengers behind on a grueling climb in the Pyrenees to seize the leader's yellow jersey with a dominant win in the eighth stage.
Froome entered the Tour as the favorite after finishing second last year behind countryman and Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins, who isn't defending his title because of an injury. After Froome's performance, the race looks like it's his to lose.
"I must be among the happiest men in the world today," Froome said. "There's a long way to go until Paris. There are two weeks left but we want to keep the yellow jersey."
Froome leads Contador by nearly two minutes, with former champions Andy Schleck and Cadel Evans much further back, ahead of another tough mountain stage on Sunday.
"More than anything today we've got a bit of a psychological advantage over the others," Froome said. "It's quite hard to think about this, standing in yellow today. This is incredible. We've worked for months to be in this position."
In the overall standings, Froome is 51 seconds ahead of teammate Richie Porte and leads third-place Alejandro Valverde by 1:25. Meanwhile, Contador is 1:51 behind in seventh spot; Schleck is 4:00 back in 21st and Evans is 4:36 adrift in 23rd.
This is the 100th edition of the Tour — and the first since Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven straight titles (1999-2005) for doping. Froome's ride on Saturday resembled Armstrong at his best, when the American used to punish his opponents early in the race to take control.
Froome was asked after the stage if he is riding clean.
"One hundred percent," he responded.
"It's normal that people ask questions in cycling," he said. "I certainly know the results I'm getting, they're not going to be stripped ... I think the sport (has) changed. If you look at it logically the sport is in a better place now than it has been."
The 28-year-old Froome attacked early into the day's second big climb up to Ax 3 Domaines and only Porte, who finished the stage 51 seconds behind in second, was anywhere near him.
"The team was absolutely perfect today," Porte said. "I'm absolutely finished but it was an incredible day."
Contador grimly held on as long as he could, and was dropped by Froome long after 2010 champion Schleck and the 2011 champion Evans had already been left behind.
"I tried to find my rhythm because it was a bit too fast for me," Schleck said. "It's only the first day of the mountains and it's not over yet."
Froome took the yellow jersey from South African cyclist Daryl Impey, his former training partner, who crawled over the line 7:50 behind in 35th spot.
Contador finished the stage 1:45 behind Froome, Schleck trailed by 3:34 and the 36-year-old Evans was 4:13 adrift.
"I wasn't expecting that much for today," Froome said. "The time gaps were so big, that's quite something. We're in a really good position."
Given that Froome may attack again in Sunday's second tortuous Pyrenean climbs — featuring four straight category 1 ascents — he could be well on the way to victory by Monday's rest day.
|Boston - WP: M. Ott||4||FINAL|
|Minnesota - LP: M. Hoffman||3|
|Cincinnati||8||Bottom 9th Inning|
|Chicago WSox||2||Top 6th Inning|
|Kansas City||4||Bottom 5th Inning|
|Seattle||6||Top 9th Inning|
|San Francisco||8:05 PM|
|LA Lakers||8:30 PM|
|San Jose||6:00 PM|
|NY Rangers||7:00 PM|
|UC Santa Barbara||38|
|San Diego St||73|
|Utah Valley U||83|
|Colorado||47||2nd Half 10:45|
|Cal State Fullerton||43||2nd Half 12:41|
|Long Beach State||39|
|Idaho||45||2nd Half 12:06|
|Wyoming||37||2nd Half 13:20|
|Florida A&M||29||2nd Half|
|Nicholls||28||2nd Half 19:29|
|Ohio||18||1st Half 11:09|
|Penn State||7||1st Half 10:07|
|Northern Colorado||17||1st Half 12:37|
|Duquesne||10||1st Half 9:53|
|Savannah State||7:00 PM|
|Texas-El Paso||7:00 PM|
|Oral Roberts||7:30 PM|
|Sam Houston St|
|Alabama A&M||8:00 PM|
|Eastern Mich||8:00 PM|
|UC Riverside||8:00 PM|
|Georgia Tech||8:00 PM|
|Rhode Island||8:00 PM|
|Portland State||8:00 PM|
|Fresno State||8:00 PM|
|Miss State||8:25 PM|
|West Virginia||8:30 PM|
|Boise State||10:30 PM|
|New Mexico St|
|Miss Valley St||68||FINAL|
|(22) Middle Tennessee||69|
|William & Mary||65|
|Bradley||58||2nd Half 3:55|
|Montana State||14||2nd Half|
|Alabama State||11||1st Half 11:08|
|Louisiana Tech||6:00 PM|
|Southern Ill||7:07 PM|
|Idaho State||7:30 PM|
|Old Dominion||8:30 PM|
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