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.
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.
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