TOURS, France (VN) — The blanket of inevitability with which Sky and Chris Froome have smothered the peloton since delivering the Kenya-born Brit first to the summit at Ax 3 Domaines grew a little tighter with his dominant performance in Wednesday’s time trial. However, after suffering another casualty on the road to Thursday’s finish in Tours, Sky now must confront the possibility that the team-oriented system that it has used to project such dominance at the Tour may itself be unraveling.
The team has already been dogged by injuries and other problems in the 100th Tour. Geraint Thomas has been gingerly pedaling his way through France with a fractured pelvis, sustained in the massive pileup that threw the finish of the Tour’s opening stage into total chaos. On Sunday — the same day Froome found himself isolated after top lieutenant Richie Porte cracked spectacularly on the second of the Tour’s two days in the Pyrénées — Peter Kennaugh careened off the road, injuring his arm, and the team lost Vasil Kiryienka when he finished outside the time limit.
On Thursday, another key player in the bulwark Sky had hoped to construct around Froome and his yellow jersey, Edvald Boasson Hagen, left the race in an ambulance following a heavy crash in the final kilometers of the stage. His injuries were later diagnosed as fractures of the head of the right humerus and scapula. He will not start on Friday, but will instead head home, where he should avoid surgery, according to Sky management, and will undergo treatment.
“It’s a real shame for Edvald and a setback for the team that he’s been forced to abandon the race,” said Sky principal Dave Brailsford. “It’s never nice to lose a rider of Edvald’s ability, but ultimately we’re still confident that with the riders we’ve got left we can pull together and see the race through. The plan doesn’t change and we will do everything we can to support Chris.”
If the team cannot begin to patch up its black and blue riders before the Tour settles into its critical third week in the mountains, it risks once again leaving Froome vulnerable, particularly on the climb to the summit of Mont Ventoux on Sunday.
Still, despite the damage sustained today, there were positive signs as well. At the most fundamental level, Froome arrived safely at the finish, after narrowly avoiding getting caught up in the pileup that claimed Boasson Hagen near the end of the stage.
And Froome told reporters after yesterday’s time trial that he was confident the team would be there for him in the Alps.
“Richie proved he’s back with [his] time trial ride,” said Froome. “I am confident the guys will be there for me for the final week. I think what happened in the Pyrénées was a combination of many elements, so I can expect the team to be ready for the Alps.”
And before today’s stage, Thomas, now well into a second week of riding with his fractured pelvis, said he felt he would be ready to contribute to the team during the critical Alpine stages next week.
“I am feeling better every day,” Thomas told VeloNews. “The rest day was nice, and then a relatively easy day with the time trial. I feel like I am getting better every day, so hopefully next week I will be able to do a good job for the boys. It’s tough because you’ve got to do physio in the morning and in the evening, so it cuts into your recovery. It adds hours to the day, so it delays your recovery, so it’s a bit of a vicious circle. It’s all improving, so I should be all right by next week.”
Still, the team will be down another man at the start tomorrow, and Froome said he was well aware that it would take a complete and healthy team to help ensure his safe passage through the Alps.
“We know the other teams are going to throw everything they’ve got at us [there],” he said.
Now to see if Sky can throw it back with just seven men.