Froome sucks life out of fight for yellow

With nine major climbs remaining, Chris Froome knows anything can happen, but his TT ride sucked the life out of the race for yellow

MONT-SAINT-MICHEL, France (VN) — The bleeding still hasn’t stopped.

After just 11 stages of this 100th Tour de France, Sky’s Chris Froome leads the general classification by more than three minutes, and there’s little reason to think he won’t ride into Paris — barring catastrophe — in yellow.

When the dust settled on a windy day just outside the World Heritage Site of Mont Saint Michel, Froome had taken second in the Tour’s first individual time trial to world TT champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), but gashed the hopes of his rivals to the bone. Of course, the mild-mannered Froome wouldn’t say any such thing.

“I am really happy with how the stage went. A TT is always one of those nervous days for a general classification rider, because there are a lot of things that could go wrong. I was happy to extend my lead on the other GC riders,” he said.

As it stands now, he’s 3:25 ahead of Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), 3:37 up on Bauke Mollema (Belkin), and nearly four minutes clear of Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff). To say Froome is now fully in control of this bike race would be an understatement. The road to Paris looks much like Sky’s route in 2012 with Bradley Wiggins, in which the team took control early and never relinquished.

Froome began to drain the life from the peloton on Saturday, on the slopes of Ax 3 Domaines in the Pyrénées, where his Sky team went to the front and detonated the general classification group, launching Froome to a stage win and the yellow jersey.

A day later, his team imploded under constant pressure from Garmin-Sharp and Movistar and fatigue from the first mountain stage, leaving him alone 100 kilometers from the finish on a hot mountain stage, but Froome was able to control attacks and never appeared in danger, even when isolated.

Valverde, when asked if he and the others could beat Froome, only laughed, and said, “difficult.”

Looking ahead now, other GC men have reason to be discouraged: Froome has proven to be the best climber in the race thus far and is the GC time trialist of reference. The math on that is bad, considering the remaining time trial runs 32 kilometers from Embrun to Chorges, and includes two Cat. 2 climbs, both about 6km and six-percent grade.

Froome wouldn’t say he was comfortable in his position, and repeatedly said he was taking the Tour day by day. After seeing Sky fall away from its captain in the Pyrénées, Froome’s rivals won’t stop trying, but it’s getting harder by the day to imagine anyone other than the Kenya-born Brit in yellow come the Champs Élysées.

“Other teams are going to throw everything they’ve got at us. I think we’re going to have to try to deal with it the best we can with the team we’ve got,” Froome said. “Unfortunately, Richie [Porte] has slipped back, but he showed today he’s not out of this race. I will expect him to be there, along with Pete Kennaugh, when we go into the mountains.”

There are four mountain stages left in this Tour, including the hallowed Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’Huez, twice, and five if one counts the time trial. This parcours is backloaded, with three big days in the Alps and the stage 17 TT the race’s centerpiece. With 37 categorized climbs still to come, including nine rated Cat. 1 of hors categorie, the old “anything could happen” adage still applies, however slim “anything” actually is.

As with Sky’s late loss to Juan José Cobo in the 2011 Vuelta a España, anything can happen, and Froome knows that much. “I’ll need every second I can get,” he said, after taking another heaping armful of his own.