Chris Froome (Team Sky) defied expectations yet again when he followed an attack from Peter Sagan and his Tinkoff teammate Maciej Bodnar at the end of stage 11 on Wednesday. It's the second time during this year's Tour de France that the Team Sky rider has caught his rivals napping after his downhill attack on Saturday's stage 8 into Bagneres de Luchon.
With the chase on behind as the sprinter's teams looked to close the gap, Froome's advantage was never too high. In the end, they only made six seconds on the bunch but bonus seconds doubled his gain. It's only a small amount of time, and even Froome doubted whether he had made the right choice but he was keen to increase the gap between himself and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) going into the Alps.
"I was asking myself that question in the last 10 kilometres, whether it was worth that effort," Froome said. "I am going to try and take any advantage that I can get, especially knowing that Nairo, in particular, is normally very strong in the third week. If I can take any seconds at this point, I will."
Froome admitted it himself and his attack is a sign that he is concerned about the proximity of Quintana to him in the overall classification. Even with the time gains, Quintana is just 35 seconds behind Froome and in fourth place overall. At this point last year, Quintana was over three minutes behind Froome and would cut that down to just 1:12 by the finish of the final mountain stage to Alpe d’Huez. However, Froome says that he is not stressing about the situation and is enjoying his racing, and his move was a spur of the moment decision.
"I would say that I’m loving what I’m doing. I’m really enjoying being in the yellow jersey again. This is the dream scenario for me," said Froome. "This is bike racing at its best is good for the GC riders to take the race on even on flat stages like this. I certainly feel like I'm enjoying it. I'm not being forced into this because of pressure. I think, as a team, we are working really well together. They guys were up front all day in the right position, so when that move did go with Peter Sagan, I was in the perfect place to go after him."
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Soon after the stage finish, news broke that tomorrow's stage 12 summit finish to Mont Ventoux would be shortened by 5.7 kilometres due to high winds at the top of the climb. Riders will now finish 10 kilometres up Ventoux at Chalet Reynard. Froome says that it certainly doesn't make the stage easier and is unlikely to alter the approach.
"To be honest, I don't think it changes too much. The climb to Chalet Reynard is extremely hard already," he explained. "Another 200 plus kilometre stage tomorrow with a lot of wind predicted. It could even be split to pieces before the climb. I really don't know what to expect tomorrow. We will just have to wait and see. It will be an even more intense race on the climb with it being shorter.”
Froome won the last time the race finished atop Ventoux in 2013, dropping Quintana and winning by 29 seconds. On that occasion, the riders had the benefit of a rest day to follow, but this year's ascent is complicated by a crucial time trial on Friday. The 37.5km ride to La Caverne du Pont-d'Arc is rolling, and Froome believes that riders could suffer if they go too deep on Ventoux.
"To win on a Mont Ventoux stage is something special but, certainly, at the back of our minds will be the time trial the next day," said Froome. "Whoever goes really deep on Ventoux will pay for it the day after so I think any consecutive GC day you have to be thinking about the day afterwards and what any big efforts will cost you for the next day."