Chris Froome said that he never expected to take 24 seconds off Fabio Aru on stage 14 of the Tour de France.
Froome put 24 seconds into Astana’s Fabio Aru as the Italian relinquished his lead on a dramatic finish in Rodez, when he was unable to keep pace at the front of the group on the final, steep 500m climb. As a result, Froome leads Aru by 18 seconds.
For Froome and Sky it represents a return to the top of the general classification standings far sooner than they anticipated, having originally lost the lead in the Pyrenees on stage 12.
“We knew this morning there would be gaps, but I would never have dreamt I’d be taking 24 seconds out of somewhere like Aru.” the three-time Tour winner said. “If you said I would take 24 seconds, I wouldn’t have believed you.
“I didn’t expect to be back in yellow by the end of today’s stage. We knew the final was going to be selective, but I didn’t expect to be taking these time margins off some of my contenders [for the overall]. That is incredible.
“It’s an amazing feeling, especially after such a tough day for me two days ago in the Pyrenees. It’s really unexpected. It’s nice to bounce back again.”
While it is typical of riders to applaud their teammates after winning a stage or becoming the leader of a race, Froome repeatedly pointed out the work of Michal Kwiatkowski in the last few hundred metres, stressing that without the Pole he wouldn’t have been aware that Aru was struggling.
“I wouldn’t be in this position without the work they did in the finale. Especially Kwiatkowski, he was just amazing,” Froome added.
“I didn’t know where Fabio Aru was but the last few hundred meters Kwaitkowski, the last guy with me, was shouting. He was shouting on the radio a lot, saying ‘Chris, go, go, go, you’ve got a gap, there’s big splits.'”
Stage 15 takes the peloton across mountainous terrain on an undulating parlours to Le Puy-en-Velay. It is the type of stage that lends itself to breakaway success, but with the general classification so tight, and so many riders fancying their chances, GC splits are expected once again.
“Tomorrow is the last day before the next rest day and I think it will be hands on deck again and I think it will be war,” Froome predicted.
Race leadership means that Sky will, once again, be expected to take control of the race. That brings with it its own stresses, which Astana realised on stage 13. But Froome is pleased that his team will be in charge again.
He said: “Yesterday the race was in bits with Astana trying to control it. They didn’t have the numbers and as a consequence the race blew apart.
“I like to think when we were on the front, the race seemed calmer and there was a more relaxed feeling in the peloton so hopefully we go back to that. But having said that I expect a lot of attacks tomorrow as it’s a long stage.”