Froome goes it alone

Updated: 2013-07-09 06:14

By Agence France-Presse in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, France (China Daily)

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Froome goes it alone

Ireland's Daniel Martin celebrates winning the 168.5km ninth stage of the Tour de France on Sunday. Jeff Pachoud / Agence France-Presse

Froome goes it alone

Masters mountain passes as Sky teammates fall by wayside

A day after a thrilling stage win and capture of the yellow jersey, Chris Froome was handed a stark reminder that he and Team Sky won't be handed the Tour de France on a plate.

On the second and final day in the Pyrenees, Froome's grip on the race was put to the test by rival teams for overall victory, and the stage-chasing Garmin team colluded to make stage nine a battleground.

By the end of the 168.5km trek from Saint-Girons to Bagneres-de-Bigorre, which took in five mountain passes, Froome had defended his lead.

But he saw teammate Peter Kennaugh emerge from a ditch after a crash, lost another key teammate, Vasili Kiryienka, after the Belarusian finished outside the stage time limit and saw key mountain helper Richie Porte tumble down the standings from second overall to 33rd, at 18 min 30 sec behind.

"Yesterday was my day but today was probably the worst day I have had on a bike all season," said Porte. "There are still another two weeks of the Tour, so I will look forward to moving on."

Well before Froome had started the final, 9.9km climb to the summit of La Hourquette d'Ancizan, he had no Sky teammates to help pace him or to chase down attacks by rivals.

Movistar, the team of Spanish rival Alejandro Valverde, was four-strong and diminutive Colombian Nairo Quintana tested Froome's resolve with four bursts of acceleration.

Despite having no support, save his sporting director in the team car behind him, Froome said he was in control.

"I was ready for it. I felt quite within myself on that last climb," he said, although the Briton said Quintana's accelerations were not easy to follow.

"He's a light, little Colombian who can fly up hills, so to cover his attacks definitely wasn't easy."

In the end Froome, Valverde, Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans finished 20 secs behind Dan Martin after the Irishman, the nephew of cycling great Stephen Roche, beat Dane Jakob Fuglsang in a two-up sprint.

Froome said: "That was one of the hardest days I've ever had on a bike. I was left on my own and that's a pretty difficult position to be in, so I'm really happy with how I've come through today."

Froome, whose stunning attack 5km from the finish of stage eight brought him his second stage win of the race, will hope to regroup on Monday's rest day.

But after the euphoria of Saturday, when Sky gave it everything to get the 28-year-old the stage win and the race lead, he could have finished a lot worse off.

Sky has come into this year's race as the team to beat, having shown its supremacy throughout the season with Froome dominating Tour rivals in the Tirreno-Adriatico, Tour of Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine stage races.

But on one black day, its months of preparation to win the race for the second consecutive year came close to coming unstuck.

Team principal Dave Brailsford virtually said Sky, having spent bucket-loads of energy on Saturday, had been caught out by its rivals.

"All in all it was a tough day for the team; everybody decided to take it on early and thankfully Chris had the legs to look after himself," he said.

"Yesterday was probably one of our best days and today was one of our toughest."

He said: "Chris is a very resilient guy and he's going well ... that is what counts. Physically, he wasn't worried all day, so that's a good thing."

(China Daily 07/09/2013 page23)