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Saxo’s windy attack exposes Froome’s thinned-out Sky support

The mood was quiet and calm at the Sky bus after Friday's GC tilt in the wind, and Froome is looking toward Mont Ventoux for big time differences

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SAINT-AMAND-MONTROND, France (VN) — Geraint Thomas spun slowly on the trainer, staring down at his top tube. Ian Stannard was soon joined him, taking long sips from a bottle. No one, not even the press, said a word.

Then, Peter Kennaugh rode up.

“Sorry, guys,” was all he said to his teammates, waved, and then ducked into the bus. Sport director Servais Knaven soon followed, and put his hand on Thomas’ shoulder, and asked, “Hard day at the office?”

Thomas said yes. Because it was very much a hard day at the office for Sky, which suffered to manage stage 13 of the Tour de France, and ultimately failed to control an explosive final 40 kilometers in the hot crosswinds. Thanks to a savage, all-in attack by Saxo-Tinkoff, Alberto Contador took 1:08 back from Sky’s Chris Froome, who now holds a lead of 2:45 over the third-placed Spaniard. Contador’s teammate, Roman Kreuziger, is fourth, at 2:48, and the Belkin duo of Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam are second and fifth overall, now 2:28 and 3:01, respectively.

For Sky, it was another lick in a Tour de France that’s seen the team lose two riders and be battered by a rowdy opposition. Edvald Boasson Hagan abandoned the race on Thursday after the stout Norwegian suffered fractures of his right humerus and scapula, and Vasil Kiryienka missed the time limit in the Pyrénées’ second day. Thomas has a broken pelvis, and Stannard and Kennaugh have each gone down in a hard crash.

But Froome has never wavered, even when isolated. His teammates though, have the tall order of fending off desperate attacks to fracture the Kenya-born Brit’s dominance.

“I was at the front, paying attention all day. Obviously, Quick Step went, and we were right on it. We were riding hard all day. Just as Saxo was going, I was stuck behind a few people, and so was Froomey. Stannard was going up on the left. There were seconds that they had to wait, and that was enough for the gap to open. And once that happens, it’s tough to close it. You have to try to get some guys tracking through pretty quickly and close it immediately. And it didn’t quite happen there,” Thomas said at the team bus. “It’s disappointing for sure. You don’t want to give away time, but I guess we had a quite decent advantage going into today. … We’ve still got a healthy lead over those guys.”

As Saxo riders began churning up the road — Michael Rogers was brutish on the road and actually crawled onto his team bus — a depleted Sky never could marshal enough punch to bring them back, even with the help of a few other teams.

“I wouldn’t say we panicked, but we were definitely riding hard to try and close it,” said Thomas. “It’s just frustrating, because we all had decent legs. Like I say, once you get stuck behind a couple of guys …”

For all the chaos on the road, the mood among the Sky team was largely tranquil. Froome doesn’t offer much in the way of juicy comments, but he did hint at what’s to come on the slopes of Mont Ventoux on Sunday.

“Today, obviously there were people who lost a lot of time today, guys who gained time today,” he said. “Personally, I lost time to Alberto Contador, and Mollema and Ten Dam in terms of the general classification. I’m just happy that I have an advantage of more than two minutes and I’m keeping in mind that this weekend we have a really difficult weekend coming up with the mountains,” he said. “As I said earlier, there were a lot of people with a lot of reason to ride today, lots of people losing and lots of people gaining time. Personally, I think there will be more time won and lost on a stage like Ventoux than in the last 20K of today’s stage.”

Knaven said he wasn’t worried at the team bus — twice in two sentences, in fact — and Sky principal Dave Brailsford said today’s stage wasn’t necessarily about what Froome and Sky did wrong, but what Saxo and Omega Pharma did right. With Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), previously second overall, losing more than seven minutes, it could have been much worse, after all.

“Saxo Bank emptied the tank there today, fair play. Belkin emptied the tank today. I’d much prefer to be in our shoes than, say, Movistar’s today, with what happened to Valverde, you know?” he said. “We’re still in it. We’re still leading. There’s the mountains to come, the time trial to come. We’re two down. And we’re going to keep on fighting all the way.

“Sometimes it’s not what somebody does wrong, it’s what somebody else does to take the initiative. Sometimes you’ve got to credit the people who take the initiative rather than the people who make the mistake.”

Thomas’ return to the front of the peloton was a one bright spot for Sky. He said Friday was as good as he’s felt on the bike since the crash in Corsica, which now seems like months ago. They miss the others, but know it’s up to the seven remaining riders to finish the job.

“For sure, if they were here it would have helped. But we’ve got what we’ve got. And I’m not sure that there’s many other teams with nine guys anyways. It’s unfortunate to lose them, but we’ve got to just deal with what we have,” said Thomas. “We’ve still got a lot of confidence in ourselves. We know that when we pull together we’re just a strong as anybody else.”

Contador and the others took a bit more than a minute in the crosswinds today, and they stole a bit of confidence as well. Asked if it would matter in the end, Brailsford was honest.

“I’ll tell you in Paris,” he said. “I don’t know, do I?”

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