LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, France (VN) — Any GC contenders who survived the “Metz massacre” on Friday got caught in the Team Sky crossfire on Saturday.
Team Sky opened fire on the peloton in the Tour’s first mountaintop finish, dramatically turning what appeared to be a very open GC picture just 48 hours ago into all but a five-man race.
Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) said it might be even tighter than that.
“It’s becoming clear that this race is coming down to a three-man race — me, Cadel (Evans) and (Vincenzo) Nibali,” said the new yellow jersey.
“We didn’t really go 100 percent. We didn’t empty the tank. I am surprised there were so many gaps. I thought there would be 15 guys at the summit.”
On Friday the peloton looked like an infirmary following a nasty crash with 25km to go that saw 17 riders abandon, among them Giro d’Italia champ Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp).
Others dodged the danger, but at the finish line on Saturday, pre-Tour podium favorites were scratching their heads at what had just happened.
Only four riders remain within one minute of Wiggins. Behind them — and largely beyond realistic striking range of Wiggins and Evans — is a long list of riders.
Among the riders who avoided crashing Friday only to lose time Saturday were Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Jurgen van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), Andreas Klöden (RadioShack-Nissan), Ivan Basso (Liquigas-Cannondale) and Levi Leipheimer (Omega Pharma-Quick Step).
Leipheimer lost nearly three minutes, dropping to 27th place, 3:47 ibehind Wiggins.
“I just didn’t have the power. It was a bad day. I hope it’s my only bad day,” Leipheimer said.
“It was the first climb of the Tour. We were blazing towards it, super fast, super aggressive. That just killed my legs. By the time we got to the climb I felt like I was already tapped out.”
Olympic champion Sanchez also struggled to maintain the pace, forfeiting more than a minute and slipping to 12th at 2:02 back.
“I could quickly tell I couldn’t match the pace set by Sky. They are a super-strong team,” Sanchez said. “I didn’t want to go into the red, so I decided to ride at my own pace and try to limit the damage. I hope to have more opportunities.”
Another rider whose GC chances took a blow was van den Broeck, who dropped to 13th at 2:11 back.
The Belgian got pushed off the road as the peloton was jockeying for position in the high-speed run toward the final climb and dropped his chain.
“I lost a minute there trying to reposition the chain and by the time I started chasing back, the peloton was long gone,” he said. “I gave everything to try to recapture the leaders. I came within 10 meters and just blew up. I went too hard chasing back.”
Stage winner: Chris Froome (Sky) won the stage, his first Tour victory
Yellow jersey: Bradley Wiggins (Sky) ended Fabian Cancellara’s seven-day run in the maillot jaune
Green jersey: Peter Sagan (Liquigas-Cannondale) defended his grip on green
Polka-dot jersey: Froome took over the climber’s jersey from Michael Morkov (Saxo-Tinkoff)
White jersey: Rein Taaramae (Cofidis) ended Tejay van Garderen’s weeklong run in the young rider’s jersey
Best team: Team Sky
Most aggressive: Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank)
The peloton: Eight lighter
Seven riders did not start: Amets Txurruka (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Robert Hunter (Garmin-Sharp), Hubert Dupont (Ag2r), Oscar Freire (Katusha), Maarten Wynants (Rabobank), Imanol Erviti (Movistar)
DNF: Anthony Delaplace (Saur-Sojasun)
Remy di Gregorio (Cofidis), fined 100CHF for “comportement incorrect”
Yauheni Hutarovich (FDJ), fined 50CHF for “comportement incorrect”
Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), fined 50CHF for “sticky bottle”
Pierre Rolland (Europcar), overall pain from previous crashes
Michael Schar (BMC), pain in the Achilles tendon
Francis de Greef (Lotto-Belisol), pain from previous crashes
Alessandro Vanotti (Liquigas-Cannondale), insect bite
Julien Fouchard (Cofidis), pain in left knee
Sebastian Langeveld (Omega-GreenEdge), request for pain pills
Crash at 68km:
Federico Canuti (Liquigas-Cannondale), trauma to left wrist, shoulder
Cyril Lemoine (Saur-Sojasun), cuts to left buttocks
Weather forecast: Continued warm
Warmer, summerlike weather as the Tour rolls into Switzerland, with highs in the upper 70Fs, mostly sunny skies and gusting S-SW winds 20-40kph
Sunday’s stage: Ideal for stage-hunters
The stage-hunters should have their first real chance of this Tour, with the short but explosive 157.5km eighth stage from Belfort to Porrentruy, Switzerland. The rollercoaster stage features seven rated climbs, including a first-category climb that tops out 15km from the finish line. It’s ideal for breakaways.