So far this year, Froome has showed us what an amazing all-round rider he has become. He can descend with the best; he can race smart and not just climb faster than everyone else. He’s a real team player too, going back for his team when Orica-BikeExchange’s Simon Gerrans had a spill at the front of the bunch, bringing down a few Team Sky riders.
But the organisers were hugely sympathetic to Sky’s leader on Thursday when they overturned the provisional classification to preserve his race lead. When he crossed the line on a replacement bike after the carnage of the final kilometres, Froome was placed sixth in the general classification with everything to do to defend his Tour de France crown.
An hour later, he was back in yellow. Was it guilt on the part of the race organisers? Embarrassment? Or did the sheer presence of the monolithic Team Sky cloud the jury’s judgement to overturn the result on the road?
From an organiser’s point of view, what happened in the last 1.5km would have sounded alarm bells. Allowing fans into close proximity to racers is part of the appeal of pro cycling, but no one wants to see riders hitting motorbikes, spectators or each other, especially at crucial moments of the race. Riders should be left to fight out who’s the best using their own skill and strength.
However, I don’t believe that yesterday’s result should have been nullified.
What happened was unfortunate, but it happened. There have been a number of instances in the past where riders have gained due to others’ misfortune. With no protection from the last 3km crash rule (where on sprint stages riders get the same time as the finisher if they crash within the last 3km), the unpredictability of mountain stages make them even more exciting.
Watch highlights of stage 12
This is racing. Unexpected occurrences happen and – even though Team Sky like to control all aspects of the races they compete in – you can’t protect yourselves from everything. And that unpredictability can make bike races even more thrilling.
If Thursday’s result had stood, today we would have a new rider in yellow. Froome would have more than just a mountain to climb, and it would give teams and other riders a spark of hope that they are not down and out quite yet.
A few moments spring to mind from the past – and you don’t have to look that far back. Poor Richie Porte has had more than his fair share of mishaps, including the one that took Porte out of the running in stage two of this year’s Tour de France within the last five kilometres.
Flick back to last year’s Giro d’Italia, and Porte was given a two-minute penalty for accepting help at the Giro, again when he punctured at a crucial moment within the closing moment of the stage.
Francesco Bongiorno looked set for a stage win in the 2014 Giro d’Italia until an over-zealous fan pushed him into Michael Rogers, who later went on to claim victory that day. Andy Schleck lost yellow and the overall to Alberto Contador with a dropped chain in the 2010 Tour de France, albeit 24km from the finish (yes, Contator was then stripped of his title later on).
These are all instances where riders had some bad luck, where a crash or a mechanical has taken them out of the running… so why should Chris Froome be treated any different?
No rider wants to claim glory because of someone else’s mishap. Adam Yates says he’s happy that Froome is in yellow and not him. But to take the race lead would still have been an incredible achievement for the young rider, and it would really have left this year’s Tour in the balance.
If Froome had started stage 13 with a 50-second deficit to Yates, it would have forced the hand of Team Sky and we’d have seen Froome under pressure. That in itself would have given the last week of the Tour de France a new edge, something people would have been talking about for years to come. Greg Lemond’s eight-second victory in 1989 was so exciting that fans still talk about it today – can the same be said of recent races?
Perhaps this Tour could yet be different – because let’s face it, no-one has any idea what could possibly happen next.