BAGNÈRES-DE-BIGORRE, France (VN) — Sky’s party ended just 24 hours after it started in Ax 3 Domaines. Though Chris Froome remained in the yellow jersey after Sunday’s stage, he was put on the ropes, isolated and deprived of teammates.
Froome, in a group of around 32, rode alone. Richie Porte, who guided him to Saturday’s win and sat second overall, lost ground on the first climb and closed his day 18 minutes behind. That was better than Vasil Kiryienka, who missed the time cut and is out of the Tour de France.
“That was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had on the bike,” Froome said in a press conference.
“To be in the front group alone, that was quite a difficult position to be in. I am really happy with how I came through, to still be in the yellow jersey, and having not lost too much time to my main contenders.”
Team principal David Brailsford calculated that time as his riders rolled in and stepped onto the team bus.
Froome leads Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) by 1:25 over and 1:44 on Bauke Mollema (Belkin) by 1:44. Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) sits in sixth at 1:51.
“It was a tough day for the team,” Brailsford said after looking at the numbers.
“Chris thankfully had the legs to look after himself. Yesterday was one of our best days, but today was one of our toughest.”
After Garmin’s early attacks, Movistar posed the most threat to Froome’s lead. They attacked on the descent over the top of the second climb, the Col de Menté. Froome followed. Nairo Quintana jumped four times on the final Hourquette d’Ancizan climb. Froome followed.
From the follow car, sport director Nicolas Portal told Froome not to worry, the yellow jersey recounted.
“I was prepared for that final climb, thinking they were going to put me under pressure,” he said. “It’s not easy to follow Quintana; he’s a light little Colombian who can fly uphill. I was ready for more attacks; I was quite glad they were not.”
Added Brailsford: “Tactically, that was their best shot. It was a good shot, but Chris is equal to Quintana and was never really under any pressure.”
Froome’s lack of helpers was due to a series of circumstances. His rivals ganged up against him early on, distancing Porte and Pete Kennaugh, who were already tired from Saturday. Too, Kennaugh fell on the descent of the first climb, the Col de Portet-d’Aspet.
“When he was down, we drove past him and didn’t even know he crashed. Luckily, Servais Knaven came in the second car and helped him,” Brailsford said.
“The guys had to ride hard in the morning and neutralize all the escapes, and that took its toll and Richie wasn’t in his best shape.”
Porte was sitting pretty on Saturday, just as he had when he helped Froome win Critérium International and Critérium du Dauphiné. But Sunday was another matter. He hovered at about two to three minutes behind the Movistar-Froome group, at one point closing to about a minute, but that was it. The team finally told him to sit up and save his energy for helping Froome over the next two weeks.
“Yesterday was my day and today was probably the worst day I have had on the bike all season,” Porte said after a shower.
Still, he put a positive spin on it all.
“We move along,” Porte said. “There’s a recovery day tomorrow and hopefully, some sprinters stages. And look, yeah, it will be fine.”