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The great escape

Robert Millar
July 10, 2013, 05:50,
July 10, 2013, 06:50
Tour de France

A closer look at the attack on Froome and Sky

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) attacks to put pressure on Tour leader Chris Froome (Sky)

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) attacks to put pressure on Tour leader Chris Froome (Sky)

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The thirty meter gap that Chris Froome closed to go with Alejandro Valverde and Ruben Plaza when they attacked in the valley before the Col de Peyresourde during stage 9 on Sunday may well have been the moment that the Sky rider won this Tour de France. If he hadn't reached the Movistar duo then he was toast and he knew it.

What I found amazing was that the Spaniards then rode with Froome sitting on their wheels instead of aborting the attack, and Contador had to have his team chase the move down. The only way Movistar or Saxo-Tinkoff were going to really put pressure on the race leader was to repeatedly attack him in the valley until he eventually had to let some of them go. Froome's not going to let Valverde or Contador go, but Quintana and Kreuziger he might have, if they kept attacking with teammates then he would have had no choice as you can't chase everything. It didn't matter who from those teams it was, all it needed was a Belkin rider to be in on any move that went clear and the Sky number one would have been in a bad place. Then who would Froome have chased? Nobody with any fire-power. Certainly not Evans or BMC; they were surviving and not Garmin as they still had Hesjedal in front.
Froome could have been faced with riding on his own before he got to the next mountain or waiting for teammates, neither of which was a good choice .

I can't imagine a Hinault, LeMond or Merckx letting a lone rival off the hook like the others did on Sunday, even a Contador in top condition would have exploited Sky's weaknesses but therein lies the clue. Contador wasn't good so he kept his team quiet. It was a strange outcome as Valverde and Movistar seemed more pre-occupied with distancing Porte than punishing a vulnerable race leader who must have been nervous to find himself without any friends and still with 100km to the end of the stage.

Looking back, this isn't like the 89 Tour when Greg LeMond found himself in the yellow jersey with a weak ADR team, the background circumstances are different here. Greg was a popular rider, he had won the Tour before and his contract was up so plenty of teams were interested in courting him. I'm not saying Chris Froome is unpopular but Sky's dominance of last year's Tour and their way of racing hasn't made them any friends who they can look to for some aid and Froome also has a solid contract for the next few seasons. These things matter when other teams or riders might be thinking about helping out in a sticky situation.

After the Sky show at Ax-3 Domaines it had looked like we would be seeing a repeat of 2012 but thankfully the other teams have risen to the occasion and it might be a lot more interesting in the last week.

First though, those with pretensions of removing the yellow jersey from Froome's shoulders at some stage in the future have to limit their losses in the Mont-St-Michel TT. I can't see Contador being that close to Froome and it's not really Valverde's strong point so they'll probably be more than three minutes down on GC by the end of Wednesday's stage. The ones to watch will be the Belkin duo of Ten Dam and Mollema along with Kreuziger of Saxo-Tinkoff, guys like Dan Martin and Rui Costa will keep their options open for a top five spot if they can stay within four minutes of the lead too. Quintana will have to get a wriggle on though if he wants to hold off Kwiatkowski for the white jersey classification; the Omega Pharma youngster is one very talented bike rider.

I wonder if we'll see an equal distribution of wins again among the sprinters over the next few flatter stages like we saw during the first week. It seems strange to only have witnessed one victory for Mark Cavendish but then I would have said that also about the Sky machine falling apart so spectacularly too.

trevorho More than 1 year ago
Great article as usual! IMO Movistar were probably told to continue riding in order to hold off Porte and the sky chasers. The racing was going on from the back, not the front :-)
miteycasey More than 1 year ago
Agree, but they lost an amazing chance to crush Froome, if it's ever going to happen.
Norman Gillan More than 1 year ago
more good insights from the bold Robert......
Latvian More than 1 year ago
nice article. i agree on movistar & saxo, not sure what managers plan was, probably happy to come 2nd
sherwin35 More than 1 year ago
"Sky machine falling apart so spectacularly"? Not the first time. Froome lost the lead when he was left isolated on the penultimate stage of the Tirreno-Adriatico. Wiggins was left isolated with a broken bike on the last stage of Il Trentino.
PJK1972 More than 1 year ago
Valverde & Contador are scared of Froome. They were looking for weakness on stage 9 and found absolutely none. Hence why the attacks stopped. They had ridden so hard that they really couldn't sustain the attacks anyway I think. They were just lucky the road didn't rise to a hilltop finish again.
blemcooper More than 1 year ago
I think it was Froome who was lucky the road didn't rise to a hilltop finish, since that would have made multiple, sustained attacks on him more worthwhile for the others to risk (as opposed to a 30km, non-technical descent with headwinds).
SumerianThunderbox More than 1 year ago
I think there's some truth in this. I think Quintana stopped his attacks because the only person he was going to drop was Valverde. Ditto Saxo's lack of ambition.
MisterW More than 1 year ago
Excellent article but I think Movistar also got it wrong the day before. Quintana is very strong so if they'd held him back until the final climb he could have finished much further ahead. Although I'm supporting Froome it is brilliant to see him being made to fight for it. It's far more exciting than last year's parade.
Ed Kriege More than 1 year ago
Insightful as always. I couldn't understand why Valverde (or others) didn't at least have a dig at Froome in light of the work the team put in. It all just seemed to fizzle.
martincov More than 1 year ago
Writing this following the TT at Mont St Michel - it's great to see someone get it absolutely right. Froome's main rivals now have to make up more than 3 minutes and Kwiatowski gets ahead of Quintana for white. Yes, I think Movistar, especially, missed out on stage 9. Why didn't someone from the team attack Froome after Quintana's efforts failed, he must have been pretty tired by then. But, perhaps, all the others were too. Now feel that Froome's teammates have recovered a little, especially Porte and there should be enough help to keep the jersey
SumerianThunderbox More than 1 year ago
Valverde was toast at that stage. Froome wasn't.
durgadas More than 1 year ago
It's also true that Robert's words here come from a time when to be the leader of a team you had to have more than just talent. Having a big Personality and Charisma and a bit of narcissism as well thrown in were needed. We don't really have Bernard Hinault's anymore in the modern peloton. Lance was the last patron and to some degree Contador was becoming that guy, but he was derailed seriously by the drug thing. On the other hand, watching "that one guy" on the team dominate vs. "that other guy" on that other team isn't as interesting as people making their own way and breaking through more often. You do see guys breaking through more now than in the 50's, 60's and 70's. Not respecting the elders is good and bad. Guys are much more recruited for their ability to "toe the line" of the team than their performances, historically. So many commenters here seem to forget that in the formative years of a cyclist's life, they are in service of their team leader, so their performances aren't as singular in appearance as they are when everyone is looking at them, nor does that account for the fact that they are getting bottles and keeping the head guy out of the wind. Often, they succeed in spite of their role and if they can back that up then they become more suited to be a "team leader". Team leaders anymore are just the head of a team on the road, but not in the backroom as much as, say, Lance or Hinault, Van Looy, DeVlaeminck or Merckx. Usually, there is "a leader" and his doppelgänger for a team manager, back in the day. Now, teams are increasingly run from the top by technocrats like Vaughters and Brailsford. Less and less are the teams "made" by a fortuitous pairing of, say, Bruyneel and Armstrong, etc. Of course, there are some nations that stick to the older ways, however.
ellenbrook2001 More than 1 year ago
but you forget some team pay the others team too help so we do not know really what going on ,they did had an opportunity too make FROOM work harder but he never happen why?also some riders may want too signed too SKY or been offer a contract if they play the game ,the cycling become so dirty,full of lye very hard too trust anyone
Robert Millar

Robert Millar was one of the last pure climbers of the Tour de France, winning several stages in the mountain stages and finishing fourth overall in 1984. He is also the only English speaker to have ever won the prestigious polka-dot jersey climber's competition jersey.

Millar retired in 1995 but has continued to follow the sport closely. He was often critical of the media and quickly cuts through the excuses and spin to understand why and how riders win and lose.

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