Tour de France
What can't Chris Froome do? In stage 11, he served...

Froome’s rivals flabbergasted again

Defending Tour champ Chris Froome keeps surprising his rivals. In stage 11 he gained more time with a late attack alongside Sagan.

MONTPELLIER, France (VN) — His rivals could only shake their heads in disbelief. In yet another stage when no one expected GC fireworks, Sky’s Chris Froome opened a new page in his playbook.

Just days after taking gains in an unconventional downhill attack, Froome bolted clear to join Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) in a daring, late-stage heist in what was supposed to be a day for the sprinters.

With Froome taking another 12 seconds to tighten his grip on the yellow jersey, his rivals were left flabbergasted again.

“Froome? It was a very complicated day. Everyone was doing what they could to hang on,” said Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde. “When he attacked, it was a bit of a surprise.”

That’s putting it mildly. Froome has confounded convention at every turn so far throughout this Tour. In his two previous Tour victories, he’s taken major gains in early time trials and climbing stages, and then held on through the final week. In a Tour at the midway point with only one major climb and no time trials, Froome and Sky have looked for other chances to take time.

“Obviously, when Chris Froome and the other guys skipped off, it was just carnage,” Richie Porte said. “I guess Team Sky are taking time wherever they can get it, but tomorrow’s a different day and they may have to pay for their effort that they did there, too.”

Froome is keeping his direct rivals off-balance. With the GC still knotted up going into Thursday’s wind-shortened Ventoux stage, those 12 extra seconds might count for a lot more.

“To be honest, I don’t even really know what happened,” said BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen, who finished in the main group six seconds back. “The wind makes it crazy and stressful, and I’m just glad to survive. It was an impressive ride by Chris Froome.”

Sky’s aggression throughout the stage was evident. The team was massing at the front, trying to force fractures in the main group. The pack split and regrouped like an accordion, and when it seemed the bunch would ride in for a mass gallop, Sagan and Froome had something else in mind — to pounce at 10km to go.

Froome’s principal rival Nairo Quintana (Movistar) tried to hide his growing frustration.

“This was the most difficult stage in this Tour for me,” said Quintana, also lashing out at race organizers over course safety. “Sky took advantage of the moment and gained some more seconds.”

Quintana also expressed regret that the top part of the Ventoux climb will not be featured Thursday due to the threat of high winds, and will have to do what he can on the shortened climb, and then wait for the Alps.

Quintana is now 35 seconds back, nearly half of the 1:12 margin by which he lost in last year’s Tour.

“Everyone is waiting, waiting, waiting; we’re racing,” Sky principal Dave Brailsford said emphatically. “You have to look for opportunities when they present themselves. It was very smart racing today by the lads.”

A defiant Quintana insists the real race hasn’t began. With Froome chipping away in unexpected places, he his hoping he has the legs when the battlefield finally turns up. “Nothing is decided,” Quintana said. “The GC is slowly reducing, but there is still a lot of Tour to come. We have the last mountains, the time trials.”

With 11 stages in the bag, there are 10 more race days left to go. Froome is clearly racing every day. What will he do next to surprise his rivals? Watch for an attack out of the neutral start zone.