LIÈGE, Belgium (VN) — Visions of 2014 were surely blitzing through everyone’s minds inside the Team Sky bus when Chris Froome hit the deck late in Sunday’s second stage.
Conditions were eerily similar to the crash that sent Froome packing home on stage 5 in the 2014 Tour: Belgian roads, summer showers, and a peloton barreling through a roundabout. In that year’s edition, Froome was so banged up he was forced to step off the bike, opening the door for Vincenzo Nibali to win.
Thankfully, at least for those inside the Sky bus, Sunday’s spill didn’t follow the same script.
Froome crashed, but the story had a very different ending. Despite a few tense moments, he finished safely in the main bunch. Initial reports suggest he is not seriously injured. That doesn’t mean there weren’t some heart palpitations.
“No injuries, thankfully, I just lost a little bit of skin off my backside,” Froome said. “That’s the nature of the race. We knew it was slippery conditions, and we know every time we put the number on our back, there is a big risk something can happen.”
Things looked to be going Sky’s way after blowing the wheels off everyone in Saturday’s opening time trial.
With teammate Geraint Thomas, who also lost skin on the day, riding in the yellow jersey, Team Sky was doing what was expected in the sprint-friendly stage. It was massed at the front of the bunch as the main pack zeroed in on a four-man breakaway featuring Tour debutant Taylor Phinney, who claimed the King of the Mountains jersey.
Steady showers followed the peloton as the Tour caravan left behind Germany and entered the Belgian Ardennes. As the pack barreled into a traffic circle, disaster struck. Someone’s tire slipped — it appeared to be a Katusha rider — and riders fell like dominoes behind him. Others falling included Ag2r-La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet along with Sky’s Froome, Christian Knees, Michal Kwiatkowski and Luke Rowe. All four Sky riders came across the line with minor cuts and scrapes.
“There was a touch of wheels, and at those speeds, you just cannot avoid it,” Froome said. “A few of us went down, and all of us are OK, and we made it to the finish without losing any time to our rivals. And that’s the main thing.”
[pullquote align=“left” attrib=”Chris Froome”]”No injuries, thankfully, I just lost a little bit of skin off my backside … that’s the nature of the race.”[/pullquote]
Sunday’s ending was very different ending from 2014, when Froome’s bid for a second yellow jersey ended prematurely on the road to the Arenberg.
On Sunday, Froome quickly remounted his bike, and gave chase. The main pack seemed to ease up momentarily as the breakaway was within striking range, and Froome, chasing with a few teammates, were able to link back up with the main pack without too much worry despite a forced bike change.
“We never panicked,” said Sky sport director Servais Knaven. “There’s not much you can do; just grab a new bike and put him back on the bike. Luckily, everything looked OK and he could go back on the bike immediately.”
The incident marred an otherwise near-perfect start for Team Sky. On Saturday, Sky walloped its competition, putting four riders into the top-8 in the Düsseldorf time trial. Thomas started Sunday’s stage wearing the maillot jaune, and Froome opened up a handy advantage to most his main GC rivals.
“As soon as we knew Froomey was OK, we were happy,” Thomas said. “They had to change a bike, and that was a bit of stress, but the race wasn’t full on.”
The spill confirmed once again that no one is immune to potentially race-ending crashes, no matter what position a team might try to slot its captain.
“There was a big fright when Chris crashed,” said Sky’s Sergio Henao. “Wet roads and a round-about always present a challenge. But like they say in Spain, it’s only ‘chapa y pintura’ [cuts and scrapes], and it is nothing more than a scare. Now we will think about tomorrow. We have to stay concentrated. We have to stay up front and try to avoid any splits in the bunch.”
After barreling through Saturday’s opening time trial looking unbeatable, some were already joking that the only thing that can stop Froome would be a crash. He dodged that bullet Sunday, the joke too close for comfort.