Chris Froome (Sky) fired another warning shot over the heads of this year’s Tour de France contenders when he destroyed the field on Sunday with a savage attack on the fog-shrouded final climb to take both the stage and the overall at this year’s Criterium International. With Richie Porte in the leader’s jersey at the start of the stage, Sky had two aces in their pack and played them both to perfection with Porte finishing an equally impressive second on both the stage and GC as well as sealing the points competition. Teejay van Garderen (BMC) finished third and added to his growing collection of best young rider jerseys while Jeremy ‘it’s not a break if I’m not in it’ Roy (FDJ) won the King of the Mountains competition. Ag2r La Mondiale were best team.
Theo Bos (Blanco) continued his great start to the season with his fourth bunch sprint victory in Stage One around Port-Vecchio, ahead of French champion Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ) and Jonathan Cantwell (Saxo Tinkoff), to record Blanco’s eleventh win of the season and aid their search for a replacement sponsor. The race was aggressive from the start with five riders, all from French teams, going clear straight away. The chasing pack was driven by Sky and Argos-Shimano, which reeled them in 3kms from the finish. FDJ and Sojasun took over in a bid to set up Bouhanni and Jonathan Hivert but Blanco timed their sprint for the line to perfection. All of the GC contenders finished in the peloton, with defending champion Cadel Evans (BMC) ready to do battle in the afternoon’s short but strenuous individual time-trial.
Stage Two proved Paris-Nice winner Porte was the fastest of the fast men beating Manuele Boaro (Saxo-Tinkoff) and van Garderen by one second, and teammate Froome by two. He said afterwards that he was pleased with the win as the technical course hadn’t really suited him:
I’ve done a lot of work on my time trial position, and that’s definitely paid dividends. We’re in a good position with me in the lead and Froomey sitting just a few seconds back. It’s going to be quite tight tomorrow because there’s a lot of good riders close to us. We came in with Froomey as our leader and he’s a great friend, so if he’s got good legs tomorrow and I don’t, then I’ll be more than happy to ride for him.
Evans had an unusually poor ride, coming in 45 seconds back in 74th place, three places down on Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Leopard) and subsequently rode in support of van Garderen on Sunday’s mountainous stage from Porto-Vecchio to the top of the Col de l’Ospedale.
Fittingly, the first break of the day on Stage Three was initiated by five-time Criterium champ Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Leopard) but he was swiftly brought to heel. After 20km a group of seven riders including Roy formed and built an advantage of just under five minutes before Sky started to reel them back in. With the gap under a minute, the leaders were joined by another five riders, including Schleck and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar). Sky upped the pace, the break started to fall apart and they were all safely back in the bunch before the final climb.
Vasil Kiryienka (Sky) set a blistering pace driving the peloton up the ascent and, after he peeled off, Froome launched his powerful and successful attack 5km from the summit. Initially, no one was capable of chasing him and Porte bided his time until he too set off, overtaking riders between himself and Froome. The Paris-Nice winner crossed the line 27 seconds behind his teammate but 18 ahead of Bauke Mollema (Blanco), Jean Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) and van Garderen.
After collecting his first-ever yellow jersey and fluffy lion, a delighted Froome said:
Richie and I didn’t have to make any big efforts until right at the end there. The team did that work for us and all we had to do was finish it off. I didn’t really intend to attack on the climb, but when the gap widened between myself and Richie, I felt I could go on, so I went for it. It was that quick thinking between us which brought about the victory and we couldn’t ask for any more than a one-two on the stage and GC.
Analysis & opinion
Although this wasn’t a proper tour, it showed some interesting things. Most worryingly for the competition, it showed that, whereas last year Bradley Wiggins was all-conquering, this year it’s Richie Porte and Chris Froome sharing the early spoils. Certainly, the lack of form must be causing BMC concern about Cadel Evans.
Waiting in the wings, however, young guns Tejay van Garderen and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) are making strong cases for team leadership in the Grand Tours and teams such as IAM are continuing to give the GT organisers good reasons to consider them for wild cards.
Blanco continue to impress in their search for a replacement sponsor and hopes will be high in the camp at Ag2r La Mondiale after their strong showing in this race.
My own prediction of a French rider winning the sprint, overall winner coming from the time trial and a Colombian to win the mountain stage also shows that you should never put money on my predictions …
1. Chris Froome (Sky) 5:55:23
2. Richie Porte (Sky) +0:32
3. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) +0:54
4. Bauke Mollema (Blanco) +1:00
5. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) same time
6. Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) +1:08
7. Maxime Bouet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +1:33
8. Pierrick Fedrigo (FDJ) +1:37
9. Johan Tschopp (IAM) +1:43
10, John Gadret (Ag2r La Mondiale) +2:05