Chris Froome (Sky) was forced to leave his bike at the side of the road and run on stage 12 of the 2016 Tour de France on Thursday, intially losing the overall race lead before it was reinstated by the race jury.
Froome had been brought down after Richie Porte (BMC) has collided with the back of a camera motorbike that had stopped abruptly due to the large crowds of spectators on the day’s final climb.
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As Froome ran up the road frantically radioing for a replacement bike, his team support could not make it through and he was forced to use a neutral service bike.
However, the bike did not fit and he could not seem to change gear. Froome then dismounted and a Sky mechanic handed him a team bike.
Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) was provisionally awarded the race lead, but a commissaires’ decision saw Froome keep the yellow jersey. Yates is second at 47 seconds, with Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) in third at 56 seconds.
Before the farce on the mountain side, Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) had taken the stage victory from the day’s escape group ahead of Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data). With his win, De Gendt also reclaimed the King of the Mountains lead.
Part of the crowd problems may have been due to the shortened stage compacting the thousands of fans into a small area near the finish. Race organiser ASO took the decision on Wednesday evening to shorten the stage due to wind speeds reaching 120km/h at the top of Mont Ventoux. Six kilometres were docked from the stage, moving the finish from the summit down to Chalet Reynard.
A large break of 13 riders formed consisting of Bert-Jan Lindeman, Sep Vanmarcke (LottoNL-Jumbo), Stef Clement (IAM), Serge Pauwels, Daniel Teklehaimanot (Dimension Data), André Greipel, Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Bryan Coquard, Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Iljo Keisse (Etixx-QuickStep), Daniel Navarro, Cyril Lemoine (Cofidis), Chris Anker Sorensen (Fortuneo-Vital Concept). They managed to pull out the biggest advantage for an escape group in the race so far: 18 minutes and 45 seconds after 80km of racing.
Windy conditions caused the peloton to split to pieces during the run-in to the two minor categorised climbs of Côte de Gordes and Col des Trois Termes. Etixx-QuickStep, Orica-BikeExchange, Movistar and Trek-Segafredo all contributed to the chase at the front of the reduced peloton. BMC and Sky sat tucked in.
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and green jersey Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) were among those caught in a group behind the peloton containing Froome. With 40km to go, the gap between break and peloton had been reduced to eight minutes, with the Pinot/Sagan group two minutes back.
Just before the 30km to go point Simon Gerrans (Orica-BikeExchange) crashed while leading the peloton on a descent, Sky duo Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe crashed straight into him. Subsequently, Froome was held up and the pace of the bunch slowed down to let the yellow jersey catch back up. This played into the hands of the break, whose advantage went back up, and allowed the dropped group of riders, including Sagan and Pinot, to regain contact with the peloton.
Surprisingly, it was sprinter Greipel who was the first to attack from the escape group with 14km to go. The German champion put in a short effort, before being caught and passed by his breakaway companions. Soon after, the break shattered as the gradient steepened into the final climb.
De Gendt, Pauwels and Navarro were in the lead as Sky moved to set the pace at the front of the peloton behind.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) attacked the Froome group, putting Sky under pressure to chase him down. As soon as he was caught, Quintana attacked forcing Sky to chase again, and Daniel Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) was among those dropped.
Froome attacked, dragging Porte and Quintana with him, but the Colombian looked to be in trouble and was soon distanced.
Up ahead, De Gendt took the win ahead of Pauwels but the race was about to implode as the GC group was caught in that bizarre incident involving a motorbike.
Jurgen van den Broeck (Katusha) was a non-starter after fracturing his shoulder during a crash the previous day. Angelo Tulik (Direct Energie) withdrew during the stage after crashing.
After today’s mountain drama, the GC riders face perhaps their most important test yet: the race’s first individual time trial stage. The hilly route starts in Bourg-Saint-Andéol and travels to La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc over 37.5km. Expect significant changes to the general classification.
Tour de France 2016, stage 12: Montpellier to Mont Ventoux (Chalet Reynard)
1. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
2. Serge Pauwels (Bel) Dimension Data at 2 secs
3. Daniel Navarro (Esp) Cofidis at 14 secs
4. Stef Clement (Ned) IAM Cycling at 40 secs
5. Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Direct Energie at same time
6. Bert Jan Lindeman (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 2-52
7. Daniel Teklehaimanot (Eri) Dimension Data at 3-13
8. Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) LottoNL-Jumbo at 3-26
9. Chris Anker Sorensen (Den) Fortuneo-Vital Concept at 4-23
10. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 5-05
11. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 5-24
25. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 6-45
General classification after stage 12 (provisional)
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky in 57-11-33
2. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 47 secs
3. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 56 secs
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 1-01
5. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r at 1-15
6. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar at 1-39
7. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 1-44
8. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 1-54
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx-QuickStep at 1-56
10. Joaquim Rodriguez (Esp) Katusha at 2-11