By Julien Pretot
CHORGES, France (Reuters) - Chris Froome is expecting Spanish rival Alberto Contador to give it all he has got to wrestle his way back into Tour de France contention on the iconic Alpe D'Huez.
Thursday's 18th stage features two climbs of the famous mountain, with the treacherous descent from the Col de Sarenne sandwiched in between - a downhill Froome hopes will be canceled should it rain as forecast.
"I expect it to be a fight tomorrow at l'Alpe d'Huez," Team Sky rider Froome told a news conference after winning Wednesday's time trial to extend his overall lead over Contador to four minutes 34 seconds.
"Contador is not a rider to give up. He is going to keep pushing me every day. It's evident that the Spaniards and the Dutch guys are not going to stop racing," the Briton added, referring to Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez and Dutch rider Bauke Mollema, who are sixth and fourth respectively.
Froome accused Contador of careless riding on Tuesday after the Spaniard crashed just ahead of him after attacking on a descent.
"No disrespect for Alberto but yesterday I felt he was a bit reckless in the descent. You've got to remember that it's a bike race, you could end up leaving the Tour with a silly injury."
Bjarne Riis, the road manager of Contador's Team Saxo-Tinkoff, however, believes that taking risks is what bike racing is about.
"He should use his brakes more if he is too afraid, because we are going to attack everywhere, whether it's uphill or downhill," he told reporters.
Saxo-Tinkoff's strategy is likely to consist in isolating Froome from his team mates with repeated attacks, then try to drop him in the descent or on the flat. They have already accepted that the Briton is too good a climber to lose ground on the ascents.
Froome's Sky team mates appeared to take it relatively easy in the time trial in order to save some energy with Thursday's battle in mind.
Contador's lieutenant, Czech Roman Kreuziger, will have drained his resources, however, in finishing fourth to take third place overall.
"Having Alberto and Roman in second and third overall gives us more tactical options," Saxo-Tinkoff sports director Fabrizio Guidi told reporters.
Contador has already shown that he is not racing for second.
In last year's Vuelta, he launched a surprise long-range attack to overthrow Joaquim Rodriguez on the 17th stage and take the title.
With four grueling climbs, descents and flat parts in the valleys, Friday's stage to Le Grand Bornand is likely to present his best opportunity to repeat the trick.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Toby Davis)