CHAMBÉRY, France (AFP) — Chris Froome emerged through the debris of a “devastating” ninth stage of the Tour de France with his yellow jersey intact, but the race is over for Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas.
Colombia’s Rigoberto Urán won the dramatic, mountainous 181.5km stage from Nantua to Chambery but spectacular crashes saw Porte and Thomas taken to hospital.
Porte’s was the most sickening as he clipped the grass verge on the inside of a bend on the lightning quick descent down the fearsome Mont du Chat less than 25km from the finish.
He came off his bike and skidded across the tarmac into Dan Martin, clattering both into the rock face on the other side of the road.
“Devastating images of @richie_porte coming from the road after a nasty crash. Richie will be taken to hospital for examination,” said Porte’s BMC team on Twitter.
He lay motionless on the road for some time being attended to by medics before being taken to hospital.
“He had a bit more fear than pain but for the moment it’s reassuring as he was conscious and that’s the most important thing,” said Florence Pommerie, one of the Tour doctors.
“These guys are tough but we need to wait a bit longer to get the medical results.”
Martin was saved by his helmet which took the brunt of the impact and was destroyed. Even though he crashed a second time on that descent, he only lost 1 minute 15 seconds by the finish.
Thomas had crashed on another descent, made treacherous by rain, earlier in the day, suffering a broken collarbone.
‘Tough to see’
It meant it was a bitter-sweet day for Froome who, despite increasing his lead and seeing several top rivals lose time, lost his chief Team Sky lieutenant Thomas and good friend Porte.
“I feel bad, it was a really bad, bad crash,” said Froome of Porte’s spill. “And my teammate as well, he’s broken his collarbone. But that image is hard to look at,” added Froome, watching a video of Porte’s crash.
“I hope he recovers well because it’s tough to see that.”On the road it was a good day for Froome as he extended his lead by a few seconds, thanks mostly to a four-second bonus he took on the line for finishing third.
He now leads Fabio Aru by 18 seconds with Frenchman Romain Bardet third at 51 seconds.
“I’m very, very happy with that and still in yellow, but it was really hard today,” said Froome.
“There was a moment in Bardet’s attack when I thought he’d go all the way and maybe take the race lead.
“But in the end there were four of us behind and we worked hard together — thanks to that we caught him.”
Bardet had attacked on the descent of the Mont du Chat, soon after Porte’s spill.
He caught lone escapee Warren Barguil inside the final 15km and left him behind but Froome, Urán, Aru and Jakob Fuglsang worked well together and mopped up first Barguil before catching Bardet with just over 2km left.
Urán pipped Barguil in a photo-finish with Froome taking third.
“I wasn’t sure if I had won or not. When I was told I had, I felt great happiness,” said Urán.
Barguil initially raised his arm in victory and cried tears of joy, but those soon changed to sadness.
“That’s the way it is, I’m really disappointed, I really thought I’d overtaken him,” said the Frenchman.
But the savage stage that included seven categorised climbs, including the three steepest of the entire race, had taken its toll.
Twice runner-up Nairo Quintana was dropped on the final Mont du Chat climb and came home in a group including Martin at 1:15. Ireland’s Martin dropped to sixth at 1:44 with Quintana actually up a place to eighth, but now 2:13 behind.
Urán and Fuglsang both moved into the top five from outside the top 10 at the start of the day. Briton Simon Yates came home with Martin and Quintana but dropped a place to seventh at 2:02.
But the big loser of the day was two-time former winner Alberto Contador, who lost four minutes and is now outside the top 10, more than five minutes off the pace.