BERN • Chris Froome yesterday dismissed suggestions that he has got cycling's Tour de France wrapped up, pointing to four tough stages in the Alps to come.
French sports newspaper l'Equipe ran a headline saying "Sans rival" - without rivals - at the end of the first two weeks of the Tour, with Froome leading by 1min 47sec overall from Dutchman Bauke Mollema.
The 31-year-old Kenyan-born Englishman has been imperious during the race this year, launching a daring solo attack on a fast descent to take victory on stage eight.
He then broke away alongside world champion Peter Sagan on a flat 11th stage with crosswinds to snare more time from his rivals.
Froome took time out of all but two of the top climbers - Mollema and Australian Richie Porte - on the uphill finish on Mont Ventoux and then crushed the other contenders on Friday's time trial.
But the Sky team leader insists it is far too early to start crowning him with a third Tour victory.
A LOT OF RACING LEFT
To say I've won and I don't have any rivals, that's rubbish. A lot can happen in four days in the mountains.
CHRIS FROOME, on the challenging 17th to 20th stages of the Tour de France.
"I don't agree," Froome said when asked about the l'Equipe headline.
"Other teams have said they're going to attack this week in the Alps, I expect they will do.
"To say I've won and I don't have any rivals, that's rubbish. A lot can happen in four days in the mountains. You only need one bad day and you can lose a few minutes."
The possibility of cracking and losing time will be high over the next four sectors.
Today's 17th stage finishes with 23km of climbing over the final 30km, including an hors category (outside categorisation) last ascent.
Tomorrow, there's a 17km uphill time trial, while Friday and Saturday's stages both have four categorised climbs.
Before the Tour began, Froome and several rivals all identified these four coming days as the key to the whole race.
And Froome explained it was with that in mind that he is remaining understated.
"I am appearing more reserved because this next block is four very tricky days.
"Each day is different and has it's own challenges. Obviously the time trial is quite important.
"Each day is extremely challenging - it's definitely a four-day block as opposed to picking one day to go harder than the other ones."
Yet he did admit that today's stage looks particularly arduous, with the 13km first category climb followed by a 10km hors category one at the finish, and only 7km of downhill respite between the two.
"That's an extremely tough stage in itself," he acknowledged.
"It's an uphill finish - we've only had one real uphill finish and that was Ventoux.
"Everybody knows the story of (what happened on Mont) Ventoux already - it will be interesting to see what happens on Wednesday."
While Froome will be on the defensive, BMC Racing pair Porte and Tejay van Garderen will be going on the attack.
They are seventh and eighth respectively at 4:27 and 4:47 behind Froome, and a top-three finish is the aim.
Briton Adam Yates currently holds third place at 2:45 back and is 1:42 ahead of Porte.
"I'm in good condition and it is a hard four-day block coming up after the rest day," said Tasmanian Porte, 31.
"I think I've got everything to play for now, I'm not too far off the podium.
"It's a big goal so bring it on."