Chris Froome (Team Sky) appears to be going out of his way this year to beat back any criticism that his often-times calculated riding style lacks panache. He broke with conventional wisdom again on Wednesday when he clawed his way up to a slowly evolving move by Tinkoff's Peter Sagan and Maciej Bodnar as the powerful pair began riding the rest of the peloton off their wheels.
Fighting through the changing cross-tailwinds that had been buffeting the riders throughout the 164km stage from Carcassonne to Montpellier, Froome flexed his flatlander muscles and willed himself onto the wheel of the world champion. Sky teammate Geraint Thomas repeated the feat, and the four-man move began expanding the gap as the riders at the head of the peloton strained unsuccessfully to latch back on.
With a teammate apiece in the break, Sagan in green and Froome in yellow poured the power on as the winds continued to blow across the road. Thomas looked to be struggling just to hold on at points, but perhaps inspired by his team leader pulling off a move across the flat plains of France, Thomas gave everything he had until the final finishing straight.
In the end, Froome et al only gained a six second gap, but ever the fighter, Froome made one last attack on Sagan as the finish line approached, hoping to gain the full 10-second time bonus that would go to the stage winner. The world champion easily beat back the GC rider and Froome settled for the six second time bonus for the runner up, but he went down fighting.
It was another interesting tactic from a two-time Tour de France champion - already control of the overall race - who is always ready to come out swinging if the opportunity to deliver another blow presents itself.
Pat Malach says: This was a fun stage. What looked like a sure-fire bunch sprint quickly changed when the winds along the coast embraced their wildcard role and started delivering knockout blows from the early kilometres. Nevertheless, and as unlikely as this seems to write, Chris Froome is turning out to be the real wildcard of this race. I think his move on the flats – apparently catching all his rivals off guard like he did on stage 8 when he attacked on the descent and rode into yellow – springs from confidence in his own condition rather than fear of Quintana in the mountains. We'll soon find out, but his attack today looked like a throwback to days with dominant patrons of the peloton like Merckx or Hinault. Good times.