Sky's Chris Froome celebrated an unexpected yellow jersey following a "very nervous" Tour de France stage to Huy today. Former race leader Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) crashed and four cyclists abandoned due to the same incident.
Froome won the battle of classification riders on the famous climb above Huy, the Mur de Huy that ends the Flèche Wallonne one-day race each year. Spaniard Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) won the stage, but Froome tucked in right behind for second and the six bonus seconds.
With the time calculated, he added 17 seconds to Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), and 24 seconds to Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo). Froome wiped away the sweat from the effort up Mur and in yellow, sat down with the press in the Tour’s air-conditioned interview cabin.
"The peloton is very nervous at the moment," Froome said. "It's a very nervous race as we saw yesterday and today. It's a very nervous peloton."
Froome, Contador and van Garderen gained time on their rivals yesterday along the wind-swept western shores of the Netherlands. Today, a crash at 55 kilometres to race, sent several riders flying across the road including Cancellara. The organiser neutralised the race, four riders abandoned and Cancellara struggled even to make it to the top of the Mur de Huy.
"The crash, I didn't know about it. I heard about it later," Froome said. "When we heard the race was neutralised, we slowed down."
The race was stopped for 10 minutes. When the battle began again, Froome came out on top.
Froome followed Rodríguez, left behind a group with Nibali and further back, Contador, and rode into the yellow jersey. He holds the top with 13 seconds on van Garderen, 36 on Contador, 1-38 on Nibali and 1-56 on Quintana.
It is the first time for Froome to wear the famous yellow top since he stood on the Champs-Élysées with the winner's vase in 2013.
"It's amazing to be back in yellow again, especially after last year's Tour," Froome said. "I didn't expect to be in yellow this early on. It's a great feeling."
Froome should now have a mental edge on his rivals and increased motivation from his eight team-mates. In addition, Sky's team car will move up in the race caravan since Froome leads the race. The position could be important in tomorrow's stage, which includes 13.3 kilometres over some of the cobble sectors used in Paris-Roubaix.
"I don't know how much we can read into that based on a 1km climb, but I'd much rather be in this position than to make up time on my rivals, but certainly a great position to be in ahead of the cobbles. I hope it will motivate and help unite the team to stay together over the pavé," Froome added.
"Tomorrow? It's the same way we approached the other days, just to almost forget that we are in this position, just start from zero every day until we get to the mountains."
"Being front of the convoy is a big bonus and for morale," Geraint Thomas said in the hot sun at the team's bus. "Having Froomey in yellow gives us that little bit of extra respect in the peloton.
"I'm looking forward to it. The team's riding well together. It's going to be super stressful again, but Froomey's in yellow, we can get stuck in and enjoy it."
The race tomorrow leaves Seraing, Belgium, and enters France, finishing in Cambrai. Froome faces 13.3 kilometres of pavé over seven sectors in northern France, one of the toughest battles ahead of the high mountains in his quest to win the 2015 Tour de France.
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Gregor Brown is an experienced cycling journalist, based in Florence, Italy. He has covered races all over the world for over a decade - following the Giro, Tour de France, and every major race since 2006. His love of cycling began with freestyle and BMX, before the 1998 Tour de France led him to a deep appreciation of the road racing season.
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