Tour de France 2015: Chris Froome tames Cambrai's cobbles to stay in control

Briton happy despite losing overall lead to Germany's Tony Martin

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The Independent Online

It was predicted to be the stage that Chris Froome would be at his most vulnerable in the first week of the Tour de France. But instead, as the ride across the much-feared cobbled farm lanes of northern France drew to a close, the Briton was not only at the head of affairs, he even briefly ripped up the script and went on the attack.

Froome’s charge away from the field seven kilometres from the line in Cambrai lasted only a few seconds. But, given that in last year’s equivalent stage he had crashed out of the race with a fractured hand, the Kenyan-born Briton’s brief spell off the front – and clad in the yellow of race leader, to boot – carried huge symbolic value.

Having come through the 13 kilometres of cobbled sectors unscathed and very much in control of the Tour, Froome raised no objections when Germany’s Tony Martin bolted away to claim both the stage win and the lead. On the contrary, given it will ease the pressure on Froome and Sky prior to the Pyrenees next week, Martin’s spell in yellow was actually welcomed by his team.

“Tony’s a great time trialist, but he’s not going to be there when we hit the mountains so I’m definitely happy to see it go to him rather than any of the big contenders,” Froome said. “Hopefully, that’ll mean my guys will have a bit of a break and can sit on the wheels a bit more than normal.”

 

Froome’s trickiest moment on the Tour’s longest stage this year – 223km (139 miles) – came when he briefly veered and wobbled on one of the few tarmacked sections after his arm struck a glancing blow against a Katusha rider. “I don’t remember that in particular, but that kind of hairy moment is usual when you’re riding on the cobbles,” he said. “I think all of the top contenders will sleep better tonight.”

After they were positioned a little far back as the peloton hit the first section of cobbles, with Classics specialist and Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas acting as his wingman, Froome’s – and the team’s – confidence seemed to grow steadily as he came through each part unscathed.

“Yes, definitely,” Sky’s general manager, Sir Dave Brailsford, commented when asked if he was relieved to have this stage out of the way. “We didn’t know what the weather was going to do, so as the sectors counted down it was nice to tick them down. Chris really grew into it.”

Indeed, Froome – whose 15th day in yellow was a new British record –   felt sure enough of his advantage that he even briefly attacked his rivals as they came out of the final segment of cobbles.

“It wasn’t about just trying to show I was strong on the cobbles, but more about staying out of trouble,” he claimed.

“I thought about giving it a go late on, but it all came back together when Tinkoff-Saxo closed it behind us.”

None of Froome’s main rivals were affected by crashes, partly thanks to the dry weather – in contrast to last year’s torrential rain, which turned the cobbles into a skating rink – and partly thanks to a strong headwind making splits or attacks much more difficult.

France’s Thibaut Pinot came off the worst, first puncturing then nearly throwing his bike on the ground in rage when he suffered further mechanical problems. He was third last year but is now more than six minutes back and his chances of finishing on the podium for a second year running have evaporated completely.

 Sky, on the other hand, are now clear favourites for the overall win. Or as Brailsford put it: “If you told me Froome would have two minutes on [key rival Nairo] Quintana after the cobbled stage, 100 per cent you’d take it, wouldn’t you? Right now, we’re in a perfect position.”

After four days of action-packed racing for the overall contenders, the next three stages, starting with Wednesday’s flat run from Arras to Amiens, should be comparatively straightforward.

Instead Mark Cavendish – waving in delight from the chasing pack as he watched his team-mate Martin speed to victory just a few metres ahead – could well have his own chance to raise his arms in a bunch sprint.

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