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July 18, 2013

Froome wins third Tour stage

CHORGES, France — Even when he expects to lose, Tour de France champion-in-the-making Chris Froome cannot help but win. He’s that strong and he’s making it look easy.

On a day when the British rider was planning to save some energy for upcoming mountains, Froome still brushed aside the field and took his third stage win of this 100th Tour.

Alberto Contador, Froome’s Spanish rival still trying to make a fight of this one-sided battle, gave his all in Wednesday’s Alpine time trial. His face contorted in a grimace of effort as he sprinted out of the saddle to the line, while spectators whipped up a thunderclap of noise by banging their fists on the barriers.

Froome, having set off behind Contador, sped in a few moments later. He, too, rode hard but looked more comfortable with his easy-on-the-eye pedaling style, perched on his saddle, legs pumping underneath him like pistons in an ocean liner’s engine room.

Contador shook his head and shrugged his shoulders when television flashed that Froome beat his time by 9 seconds. This was another opportunity lost for Contador to make victory for Froome in Paris on Sunday at least feel less inevitable.

“Froome is in impressive shape,” was the understated assessment of the 2007 and ’09 winner who was stripped of his 2010 victory for a failed doping test.

The last Tour champion — now ex-champion — to carry as many stage wins as Froome to Paris was Lance Armstrong. That was in 2004, when Armstrong won five stages and declared he’d be giving “no gifts” to his rivals. That is all just a bad memory now. This Tour is the first since the serial doper’s name was erased last year from the race’s honor roll, literally crossed out in the official history book.

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