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. 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.”