After months of controversy off the bike with his now-resolved Salbutamol case, Froome’s Tour defense got off to an equally bumpy start on the bike.
The Sky captain was caught up in a pile-up with about 5km to go in Saturday’s 201km first stage and lost 51 seconds to key rivals. Froome appeared to be squeezed off the road in a pileup in the front third part of the pack as the bunch ramped up the speed for the final sprint to the line.
Just like that, Froome’s Tour defense was on the rocks.
“No one wanted to crash today. It’s just one of those things,” Froome said. “We always knew the first few days were going to be tricky, to be sketchy, and that’s part of the game, unfortunately.”
Froome’s back and right side were covered with bumps and scrapes, but he did not appear seriously injured. Everyone inside the Team Sky knew it could have been much worse as Froome tries to win his fourth consecutive grand tour.
“The first week is always a bit chaotic. The first 180km were fine, it was just the last 20km things went a bit bonkers,” said Sky’s Geraint Thomas, who did not lose time. “It’s not ideal, but it’s the end of the world, either. He was with Richie [Porte] and Nairo [Quintana] was behind him, so arguably two of his strongest rivals.”
Froome wasn’t the only GC rider hamstrung in the closing kilometers of Saturday’s mostly flat jaunt along France’s west coast. Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) were among other GC faves who pedaled in with the Froome group.
“It’s the Tour,” Porte said with resignation. “I really don’t know what happened, to be honest. One minute, it is all OK, and the next thing, there is a crash in front. And there are a few more crashes on the way.”
Opening-stage nerves turned what was a Saturday spin along France’s west coast into a crash fest late in the first stage of the 2018 Tour de France. Even worse off was Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who smashed into a traffic island just beyond the “safe zone” at 3km to go. Quintana broke both of his wheels and could not pedal into the limit where he would not have been penalized time for a mechanical or crash.
Instead, Quintana had to wait to change his bike and had to pedal in alone because his other Movistar teammates were safely up the road. His appointed Movistar bodyguard, Spain’s Jose Rojas, had also crashed and could not help pace Quintana.
“He rode over a traffic island with about 600m to go to the 3km to go banner, broke both wheels, and could not carry on,” said Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué. “The crashes before that made things even more complicated.”
Just as Colombia’s Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step) won the stage and took the yellow jersey, compatriot and fellow Tour rookie Egan Bernal (Sky) was also caught out in a crash. Bernal rode in with Quintana at 1:15 back.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the GC contenders. Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Rigoberto Urán (EF-Drapac) and Daniel Martin (UAE-Emirates) all finished with the main pack.
Sky sport director Nicolas Portal said the team would rally around Froome to get him out of the first half of the Tour without more setbacks.
“He’s obviously disappointed about what happened, but physically, he is fine,” Portal said. “He lost 50 seconds, and that is just about the same time that Chris won the Tour last year. He’s definitely not someone I am sending home.”
The team obviously wants to avoid the scenario from 2014 when Froome crashed out in the first week and never made it to Paris.
📺 Chris Froome's harsh crash seen from within the peloton. Fortunately, the reigning champion got back on his bike ! 💪
📺 La chute de Chris Froome vue de l'intérieur du peloton. Le champion en titre est fort heureusement parvenu à reprendre la route ! 💪#TDF2018 pic.twitter.com/9axsaRay1f
— Le Tour de France (@LeTour) July 7, 2018