Chris Froome’s Tour de France lead briefly appeared at risk on the Col de Manse descent in stage 16 to Gap today. Team Sky’s captain shot left, dodging Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff), and riding in to the grass at the side of the road.
Froome had to unclip and step back on to the road, but then found himself chasing the select group he had crested the climb with.
“Alberto and [Saxo-Tinkoff team-mate, Roman] Kreuziger took a lot of risks on the descent,” Froome told French TV. “Alberto crashed just in front in me. I didn’t crash. I just laid down the bike.”
Froome continues to lead the Tour by 4’14” minutes over Bauke Mollema (Belkin), while Contador sits in third place at 4’25” minutes.
Spain’s Contador crashed and scraped his right hand through a right-hand bend however Froome narrowly avoided disaster along the gravel shoulder. His Pinarello bike hit the ground, but Froome stayed on his feet.
“There was some loose asphalt there and I lost the wheel and slid out,” Contador explained on TV. “The most important was to get up as fast as possible to not lose time.”
“I hope to not to have problems in the hand. I will put ice on it and hope it’s recovered for tomorrow,” he added.
Froome appeared shaken by the crash as he showed in the chase back, where, led by Richie Porte, Froome re-corrected his line through a left-hand corner.
Porte, however, continued to shepherd Froome (and Contador) to the lead group. After a chase of nearly four kilometres, the trio re-joined the riders further up the road with Mollema and Contador’s team-mate, Roman Kreuziger.
They crossed the line 11’08” minutes behind Rui Costa (Movistar), who escaped from a breakaway to win solo. While Costa battled for his win, Froome’s lead came under fire.
Contador and Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) took turns attacking on the Col de Manse climb. Spaniard Rodríguez tired first and Contador followed with three accelerations of his own.
Porte pulled Froome’s rivals back, leaving only Froome to cover himself after Contador’s final attack. Porte drifted back but re-joined the group before the summit, which proved handy when Froome went off road.
“It was too dangerous for Contador do it like that.” said Froome. “He attacked on the climb, attacked on the descent. It’s too much,” Froome added. “Thanks to Porte, he did great work today.”
Other top-ten riders, Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), lost time today on a tricky stage.
In 2008, Joseba Beloki crashed on the same descent and never fully recovered and Froome said he knew of the descent’s history, but had to keep “pushing it to keep up with the Saxo-Tinkoff riders.”
In a press conference, Froome added, “I think his [Contador’s] team is starting to get desperate now and therefore taking uncalculated risks.”