Chris Froome’s spectacular victory on the exceedingly steep finish on La Planche des Belles Filles, after a last-ditch attack by defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC), handed Sky a triple reward: stage win, polka dot jersey and the maillot jaune for Bradley Wiggins. It was ample recompense for the team which had set a blistering pace in the final 10km to leave most of the favourites reeling.
Evans held on to take second place with Wiggins sitting comfortably on his wheel, while Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas-Cannondale) was fourth, proving that he didn’t indeed fear Wiggins as claimed in this morning’s L’Equipe. Baby-faced Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) was a surprising fifth and took over the white jersey.
The day’s seven-man breakaway included pre-Tour polka dot favourite Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Volta a Catalunya winner Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEDGE) and 2011 mountain stage winner Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank). They built a lead of just under six minutes but were caught just after the base of the final climb.
Sky’s clinical pace-setting had already fractured the peloton on the approach, with Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), Robert Gesink (Rabobank) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) among those distanced. Once it started to ramp up, the team maintained a relentless pace, shedding riders of the calibre of Samu Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Denis Menchov (Katusha) until only a select quintet remained.
Wiggins, who has now worn the leader’s jersey in all three Grand Tours, becomes only the fifth British rider in history (after Tommy Simpson, Sean Yates, Chris Boardman and David Millar) to wear the maillot jaune. He preserved his ten-second margin over Evans, while Nibali is 16 seconds back in third.
VeloVoices rider of the day
It has to be today’s stage winner – and last year’s Vuelta runner-up - Chris Froome who, having driven the pace for his leader in the last 2km of the climb, still had enough energy left in his legs to take on and hold off Cadel Evans who attacked with 350m remaining. Having ridden in support of Wiggins to finish fourth in the Critérium du Dauphiné, it was obvious that his early season troubles - severe chest infection, bilizaria parasites and a training crash – were behind him.
As at the Vuelta, Froome is Sky’s Plan B. After a good performance in the opening prologue, he punctured towards the end of stage one and lost over a minute. On stage three, Froome emerged unscathed from a crash into the safety barriers on a hilltop leading to Boulogne-sur-Mer. He’s currently lying ninth on GC, 1:32 down on teammate Wiggins.
Froome, smiling broadly, expressed his pleasure at the result:
From the start the team were up there, controlling the race. Richie [Porte] set a blistering pace up the climb, got rid of a lot of guys, and then left me to take over, just in the last 2km.
It wasn’t actually the plan to try to go for the stage, we were just keeping Brad up there. But we had come and seen this climb previously. I knew what the finish was like. I thought, I’m there, I have the legs, why not give it a kick and see what happens?
Having Bradley right there, just two seconds behind – we couldn’t ask for more. He is in the yellow jersey now, it puts the team in a fantastic position going forward.
While those at the front of the peloton were being despatched with clinical precision, things were very different at the rear. With large numbers in the peloton sporting bandages and clearly still feeling the effects of cumulative crashes, it was lovely to see riders, often from different teams, giving one another a helping hand.
In particular, Johan Vansummeren (Garmin-Sharp), who looked as if he’d been in a tornado yesterday, was given numerous pushes. Nick Nuyens (Saxo Bank) took up pace-making duties for Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) – distanced by a mechanical – until Adam Hansen came back for his team leader. I can’t tell you what a fillip this is if you’re struggling to stay in contention.
Sky have put down a marker and in one fell swoop have all but reduced the opposition to essentially just Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali and defending champion Cadel Evans with their punishing pace on today’s first mountain stage. Much was made beforehand of the difficulty of the final climb which was making its maiden appearance at the Tour but it wasn’t the ramps which caused the damage – it was the relentless pace of Sky, who never left their leader exposed for a moment. The same can’t be said of Evans or Nibali whose team helpers were quickly distanced.
Inevitably there will be much talk of Sky having seized yellow too soon. Nonsense, as favourites they’d have been expected to control the race, along with BMC, they might as well do it wearing the leader’s jersey. The downside is that they’re likely to be wearing those yellow lids too.
Sky’s domination has not found favour with everyone. The official Tour website states:
Collective strength of the British team has somewhat killed the suspense with two weeks yet to go before the finish of the Tour.
Sorry guys, but it’s the riders and not the parcours which makes the race. Sky came to the Tour to win, not to provide entertainment or suspense. But let’s not count chickens before they hatch, there are still two long weeks to go until Paris and anything can happen.
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