After one of the most exciting Tour de France stages in recent years, Sky boss David Brailsford was counting his lucky stars that Chris Froome was still in the race lead after a day highlighted as much by the uncharacteristic misfortune of his riders as the attacking gumption of their rivals.
”If you’re asking me if we’d want to be in this position going into the rest day [on Monday], I’d have to say yes,” Brailsford said after Sunday’s 168.5-kilometre ninth stage from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre in the Pyrenees in which Froome was isolated and unexpectedly tested in hot summery conditions.
Brailsford’s words carry weight, considering the problems that have challenged the British Sky team’s Tour campaign, which started with Froome, 28, crashing in the neutralised zone before the start of stage one in Corsica.
A number of Sky riders have since crashed: on stage one, Geraint Thomas, who is still racing despite fracturing his pelvis, and Ian Stannard, but without serious injury; and on Sunday Peter Kennaugh rode into a ditch on the descent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet after which he was never able to rejoin Froome, for whom he rode brilliantly on Saturday.
On Sunday, it was the huge time loss of Richie Porte that had everyone talking. His 60th place at 17 minutes 59 seconds to victorious Irishman Dan Martin (Garmin-Sharp) dropped him from second overall at 51s to Froome to 33rd at 18:30.
It was a dire day for Sky, reinforced by the sight of a weary Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen, Spaniard David Lopez and Belarus’ Kanstantin Siutsou finishing at 26:20 and the failure of Belarus teammate Vasili Kiryienka to make the time limit in finishing at 37:58.
Froome, who took the lead on Saturday’s eighth stage after beginning the Tour as outright favourite, knew how firmly his back had been pressed against the wall after surviving the onslaught launched against him by Movistar, Saxo-Tinkoff, Garmin-Sharp and Belkin.
He survived, and by the rest day in Brittany on Monday, his lead was still intact with 1:25 on Alejandro Valverde, and 1:44 on Bauke Mollema (Belkin) third.
In sixth at 1:51 was Alberto Contador, while Australian Cadel Evans (BMC) was up from 23rd place to 16th at 4:36 after a much better day in the saddle than Saturday’s first mountain stage.
Froome had no trouble classifying Sunday’s effort after being so quickly stranded without any team support – and for so long.
”That was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had on the bike,” Froome said. ”To be in the front group alone, that was quite a difficult position to be in. I am really happy with how I came through, to still be in the yellow jersey, and having not lost too much time to my main contenders.”
By the time Froome spoke, the 100th Tour had changed dramatically. The Kenyan-born British runner-up in last year’s race to Bradley Wiggins may have been in the race lead, but no longer did he have wingman and good mate, Porte, as the rider nearest to him.
Porte looked the goods to join Froome on the podium on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday week after his stunning ride and second place in the previous day’s summit finish to Ax-3-Domaines. But his collapse in the Pyrenees on Sunday ended that.
As Brailsford said of Porte’s horror day – known in cycling as a jour sans (a ”day without”, when a rider is inexplicably powerless) – and his team: ”Chris thankfully had the legs to look after himself. [Saturday] was one of our best days, but [Sunday] was one of our toughest.”
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.