Chris Froome (Sky) lost over a minute of his Tour de France lead today after being caught out in a wind-blown stage to Saint-Amand-Montrond.
“Having lost a minute in the final is a blow, because we worked really hard to get the time we have,” Froome told journalists in the media zone. “However, we lost only a minute and I already had a good advantage. Still, this is a reminder that this race is still open.”
Froome’s lead dropped from 3-25 to 2-28 minutes after 173 kilometres.
Rival Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) punctured and was unable to regain his position as winds whipped the peloton. He dropped from second to 16th overall and lost nearly nine minutes today.
Froome lost one rival, but saw others move closer.
Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team moved to the front and shattered the lead group with 32 kilometres remaining. Froome – with Ian Stannard, Geraint Thomas and Pete Kennaugh for protection – lost pace. Richie Porte had already missed the split.
Contador’s team-mates Roman Kreuziger, Matteo Tosatto, Daniele Bennati, Nicolas Roche and Michael Rogers rode a team time trial to the finish. Belkin, which drove the peloton earlier after Valverde’s puncture, had Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam sitting in the 14-man group and gaining time, as well.
Sky only reacted with Geraint Thomas in the final kilometres. Instead, Katusha, Garmin, Ag2r-La Mondiale and FDJ mostly worked.
“Having lost Edvald [Boasson Hagen] it’s quite possible we’re weaker; he’s essential,” Froome added. “It’s the same for Vasil Kiryienka, who we lost a few days ago. Both are strong engines and the team is weaker without those two guys.”
His group crossed the line 1-09 minutes after Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) won the stage.
Taking in the time gains and Valverde’s loss, Dutchman Mollema now sits second overall at 2-28 minutes and Spaniard Contador third at 2-45.
Cavendish, who made the split of 14 men with team-mates Sylvain Chavanel and Niki Terpstra, said the wind had also surprised him.
“I noticed the wind and said something to Gert Steegmans. He replied, ‘Yeah, get ready!’ Cavendish explained. “We rode a little bit harder and it just broke [110km remaining]. When Saxo Bank broke the race up, though, it was so hard just to get across to them.”
Froome, with a tricky day to Lyon tomorrow, has work ahead of him before he can arrive to the safety of the high mountains.