HUY, Belgium (VN) — It is only the early days, but Sky’s Chris Froome is in charge of the 2015 Tour de France. He conquered the flat, windswept coastal roads of the Netherlands on Sunday and the short and steep climb up the Mur de Huy in Belgium on Monday.
Froome now wears the coveted yellow jersey on the eve of the dangerous cobbled stage through Northern France. He leads the race by 13 seconds over Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), 36 on Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), 1:38 on Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and 1:56 on Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
The lead came thanks to an end-of-stage blast up the Mur or ‘wall’ above the Belgian town of Huy. Under the hot sun’s rays and with the fans cheering him on, Froome followed eventual stage-winner Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) and left behind the others.
Nibali, van Garderen, and Quintana trailed by 11 seconds. Contador struggled on what should have been his stomping ground and crossed the line at 18 seconds. Adding to that, Froome gained an extra six-second time bonus for placing second.
“I’m just really happy to be in the yellow at this point; it’s unexpected. I was hoping to be up there today, but I’m just happy to come second ahead of my GC rivals,” Froome said after putting on the yellow top.
“It’s a great position going into tomorrow’s stage. I’d much rather be in this position than try to make up time on my rivals.”
Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) lost a chance to defend his lead due to a crash 55 kilometers out, but Froome clearly and fairly won the classification battle once the race restarted.
Contador, who won the Giro d’Italia in May, suffered the worst out of the major contenders. The signs were there when he lost precious seconds in the opening time trial, but he appeared back in charge when he zipped away with Froome Sunday in Zélande. It could be nothing, or it could mean he is paying for the efforts in Italy two months ago.
“It was a bit of time to lose,” Contador explained from the doorstep of Tinkoff-Saxo’s yellow bus.
“I said this morning, before the start, that if you have a bad day or bad luck, you can lose more time in these stages than you can in a big mountain stage. Maybe I missed a little bit in the end. What’s sure is that Chris Froome is looking very strong.
The Astana team manager told VeloNews that, with the stages and heat, it is one of the most stressful first weeks of the Tour de France that he has seen in recent years. Nibali said that Froome managed the effort well today.
“I just tried to handle myself, riding alongside van Garderen with Contador behind,” Nibali said when he arrived to the team bus after an anti-doping control.
“My morale is high, but the time loss suffered yesterday didn’t help. There are still many days ahead in the Tour, anything can still happen.”
“Froome gained a bit, but I was able to ditch a couple of people and keep the important guys close,” van Garderen said.
“Tomorrow is going to be the last of the mini-monuments, we have had crosswinds, Ardennes classics, and now a cobbled race.”
Froome took time and the yellow jersey, but he also delivered a mental blow and positioned himself better for the cobbled stage ahead.
The Tour de France’s stage 4 covers some of the same cobbled roads that the Paris-Roubaix uses each year. When it reenters France in the north, it covers 13.3-kilometers of pavé split over seven sectors en route to Cambrai.
With Froome in the overall lead, Sky will have its car up front in the convoy behind the race. It could be crucial in saving seconds if Froome or his teammates need mechanical assistance.
“That is the most important,” Sky’s manager, David Brailsford said. “The one day when you want car number one is tomorrow.”
Froome delivered another blow to his rivals and took the yellow lead, but as Nibali said “anything can still happen” in this Tour de France. The race faces another 18 stages, which includes several high-mountain passes through the Pyrenees and Alps, before it pulls into Paris on July 26.