As the Tour de France enters its 16th stage Tuesday, five things to know:
1. THE HOME STRETCH: Chris Froome is on the cusp of Tour de France victory. After Monday's rest day, the 28-year-old Briton is set to embark on six final stages in defense of his yellow jersey — having virtually sewn up a win with a tour-de-force performance atop famed Mont Ventoux a day earlier. Aside from a largely ceremonial ride into Paris for Sunday's finish, Tuesday's Stage 16 is probably the least challenging of the remaining legs to the three-week cycling showcase, taking riders through medium-sized mountains over 168 kilometers (104 miles) from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap in the Alps in eastern France.
2. TIME WILL TELL: Fans whistle jeers of doubt as Froome powers up a mountainside to dust his rivals; chatter erupts in social media comparing him to a doped-up Lance Armstrong; French sports newspaper L'Equipe runs a cheeky front-page headline "Froome: Naturally." After his striking show of dominance in Sunday's 15th stage, the Briton is facing suspicion about doping — and insists he is clean. After the ravages of drug use and cheating and the damage done to the sport's image over the last 20 years, many fans say the suspicion is warranted. Froome himself has said such questions are fair, and his Sky team volunteered Monday to open all of his training and performance data, plus blood readings, to independent scrutiny to try to silence the suspicions.
3. CONTADOR'S CONSTRAINTS: At the start of his rest-day news conference, Alberto Contador fielded a question about whether he believed Froome's performance deserved suspicion. The Spaniard responded, but only after laying down the ground rules first: No more than two questions related to doping. "If you want to ask more about that I will go to my room because I have a very hard week at the Tour ahead." The two-time Tour winner might find the subject a bit sensitive — he was stripped of his 2010 Tour title and had to sit out the race last year. The 30-year-old Saxo Bank team leader once known as "El Conquistador" said he doesn't doubt Froome and is "absolutely confident in his performance. In any case, that's what the [doping] controls are for."
4. WRIST DAY HELP: Monday's rest day — or should it be wrist day? — featured the president of the Assn. of Professional Riders giving lifesaver bracelets to every rider still in the race. These wrist bracelets, called ICE (In Case of Emergency), are equipped with software inserted in a USB key. This is designed to provide personal medical information — allergies, diseases, any medication the rider may be taking — that could facilitate treatment in case of an accident or crash, thanks to the date recorded on the memory stick.
5. TAKING A RIDE: How do some riders while away boring rest days? Taking journalists for a ride. David Millar told the Associated Press that he and Garmin-Sharp teammate Ryder Hesjedal of Canada planned to go sky-diving Monday afternoon, saying that he needed to "recharge the adrenal glands" to get a different kind of adrenaline rush than that of riding 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph) on steep downhills, for example. But Garmin-Sharp spokeswoman Marya Pongrace became queasy as the AP inquired if such a hair-raising outing was really planned, and ultimately got Millar to fess up: "It's not true," he said with a laugh.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times