The longer the Tour goes on, the more unstoppable Chris Froome seems. Today the Briton clinched his third stage win in just over a week - this time in the Tour’s challenging second individual time trial, both further increasing up his overall advantage and passing another key test en route to an increasingly certain victory in Paris.
Although his advantage was considerably smaller than in his previous time trial victory on the flatlands of Britanny at Mont-Saint-Michel - this time he beat a fast-improving Alberto Contador by 11 seconds - Froome’s overall margin is now such that by riding steadily he can maintain an iron grip on the race. And even if the 28-year-old Sky rider has eased back slightly, it is a sign of his overall strength that he nonetheless still wins.
The time trial’s intermediate times reflected Froome’s defensive strategy perfectly: on an exceediingly technical course with two climbs, two descents and a soaking wet road surface in sections, Froome was two seconds behind Contador at the first checkpoint and 11 seconds down at the second after making a strategic choice to change to a faster bike to maximise his gains on the last section. But with a slight opening of the throttle , even if he was extremely careful on two rainsoaked corners, Froome overtook Contador’s time and was able to claim the first time trial win of his six-year career.
“I wasn’t at all expecting to win today, I thought with the weather I was not going to take risks and some time losses were inevitable, but instead I managed to turn things around” Froome said afterwards.
“I didn’t want to take any risks, that first descent was very dangerous and I was a little bit down on Contador.”
Froome already invited comparisons with Eddy Merckx when - like the Belgian 40 years before - he won on the Ventoux. But rather than further imitate the Belgian and gobble up every win he possible can, though, Froome said “my main goal is basically to defend the yellow jersey, not any more stages.”
Contador, in stark contrast, was the picture of disappointment after such a near defeat. But it was far from all being bad news for Contador and his Saxo-Tinkoff squad though, as he moved up to second place overall thanks to his near-victory and team-mate Roman Kreuziger of the Czech Republic gained a spot, too, to third.
The man they ousted from the podium, Holland’s Bauke Mollema, had the roughest of days, losing time steadily in the first section and then misjudging a corner badly and crashing near the finish.
If Mollema’s hopes of becoming Holland’s first podium finisher since Erik Breukink in 1990 are fading fast, France’s chances of a top overall performance disappeared completely. Their best placed rider, Jean Christophe Peraud in ninth overall, crashed and broke his collarbone whilst training on the course, opted nonetheless to continue. He then crashed again, on the last dangerous corner within sight of the finish and landing with his full weight on the same break. This time, the Ag2R rider had no choice but to abandon.
With rider safety uppermost in most people’s minds, Froome said he would support calls, in fact, for the second ascent of today’s Alpe D’Huez to be cancelled if the rainy conditions rendered the previous drop back down into the valley to be too dangerous.
“The double ascent is part of the big tradition of the Tour’s centenary edition but safety comes first and if it starts raining I would hope they would just make it the first time alone,” Froome concluded.
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