Chris Froome out of Tour de France 2014: Lars Boom takes muddy victory on dramatic stage five that sees defending champion crash out of the race
Riders competed in atrocious conditions on the 155.5km stage between Ypres and Arenberg Porte du Hainaut
Chris Froome's Tour de France ended in calamitous fashion as a series of crashes forced the British rider to abandon his challenge for a second straight overall victory.
Racing in atrociously difficult conditions in which riders fell like ninepins throughout the course, the Kenyan-born Briton was one of the first to hit the deck, leaving the Tour just 60 kilometres (38 miles) into the stage.
A fall on Tuesday meant that Froome, 29, was already nursing a jarred left wrist and badly grazed left hip, but he was able to continue after what he said at today’s start had been a good night’s sleep.
But with riders falling constantly as the peloton pounded along the rain-lashed, wind-swept roads of Flanders and then on towards the finish in northern France, the Briton first came a cropper after some 40 kilometres, falling on his right side.
Guided back into the peloton by two team-mates and with just minor cuts, Froome looked as if he would be able to continue as he rode steadily through the field.
But then suddenly television images switched to Froome standing on the left-hand side of the road again, his bike sprawled on the ground ahead of him and clearly nursing a new set of injuries.
For a few fraught seconds it was not obvious whether he could sling his leg back over his bike and continue, or whether the pain was too great and he would have to quit.
But a shake of the head at team sports director Servais Knaven revealed that this time Froome, who took second in 2012 and first in last year’s Tour would record a much bleaker result, with “dnf” – did not finish – against his name in the history books.
“It’s just a bit unfortunate for Chris because he’s really worked for it and he’s been in good shape,” said Team Sky’s principal, Sir Dave Brailsford. “He really believed that he could win this race but I’m sure that he’ll be back. That’s part of sport. You get knocked down, you recover and you go again. I’m sure we will see him in the Vuelta [a España] and we’ll go from there.”
“He was fit to start, he was in a lot of pain, there’s no denying that, but he was fit to start. The injury that he sustained today was on the other side to the one he sustained on Tuesday. That’s the ultimate reason he retired.”
A shaken Chris Froome is helped to his feet after his second fall put him out of this year’s Tour de France (Getty)
The state of his injuries were not so serious as to prevent Froome, without talking to supporters, from first sitting in his team car and then walking unaided through his team hotel to the lift and his room. But on a sporting level it was the worst of conclusions for the Briton’s attempt to defend his Tour de France title.
Sky have lived through this situation before, with their sole team leader in the 2011 Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins, forced to abandon the competition with a broken collarbone after he crashed in the first week of racing.
However, this time around the British team are in a very different position in cycling’s hierarchy, having won the Tour de France for two years in a row, and with a reputation as the No 1 Grand Tour team in the world to defend as well.
Sky will now rely on Tasmanian Richie Porte as team leader. He rode strongly throughout stage, despite also crashing, and is now lying eighth overall.
Asked if the Australian could win the race, Brailsford answered: “Yeah. Yeah. He’s in great shape, he’s had a slower start to the season than normal and he’s fresh. He’s come into form at the right time and he’s climbing really well.”
The battle for the overall lead has become even more open than it would have been even without the absence of the defending champion, as the major favourite following Froome’s exit, the double Tour winner Alberto Contador, lost more than two minutes on the race leader Vincenzo Nibali on the stage.
Following Froome’s departure the carnage continued on the greasy, rain-soaked nine sectors of pavé, usually reserved for the Paris-Roubaix Classic in April and last used in the Tour in 2010. And with one Belgian rider somersaulting into a ditch and others simply poleaxed by the treacherous cobbles, a break suddenly emerged between a front group of perhaps a dozen riders, including Nibali, and a second containing Contador, who later revealed he had been riding with brakes blocked by the mud.
Vincenzo Nibali, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, rides through the testing terrain (Getty)
Nibali’s Astana squad piled on the pressure, with support coming from Belgians Lotto-Belisol, while Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo team looked isolated behind. But perhaps the key element to the Italian’s success was that Nibali himself seemed increasingly confident on the cobbles, his yellow-clad figure leapfrogging from one tiny group to another each time the leading break fractured.
The Sicilian did not even seem deterred when one of his team-mates immediately ahead of him misjudged a corner and slammed into a wall, skirting past the fallen rider and continuing relentlessly on.
Although unable to stop the Dutch rider Lars Boom from going clear for victory with six kilometres remaining, Nibali – who has never ridden Paris-Roubaix – finished a hugely impressive third on the stage.
The cobbled sections in the stage are usually only seen in races like Paris-Roubaix, which most stage racers avoid, so today was always the most likely to throw the race wide open in the most unpredictable manner.
But with the main favourite now heading for home and his principal challenger, Contador, lagging well behind, the entire Tour de France is up for grabs.
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