The third stage of the Tour de France to the Mur de Huy had always been penned as a stage that we would see a shake-up in the general classification but few would have expected Chris Froome to be donning the yellow jersey at the end of the day. The Team Sky rider charged after a surging Joaquim Rodríguez in the final metres of the stage and, while he was no match for the punchy Spaniard, it was enough to put him in yellow by a single second over Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick Step).
Froome would likely have preferred to take the jersey and its responsibilities much later in the race but, after such a disastrous title defence, it is a relief to be back in the maillot jaune.
"I'm really happy to be in yellow jersey, it is very unexpected. I'm happy to be second (on the stage) and put time into all the GC contenders," Froome said after the stage. "I think Mur de Huy suits more punchy climbers. It was a great performance by Purito. It's not necessarily the climb that suits me, but it's good to have a bit of a buffer on the other GC contenders. It's an amazing feeling to be back in yellow after last year's Tour, but couldn't feel better right now."
Froome finished on the same time as Rodríguez on the short climb, putting 11 seconds into most of the GC contenders with Alberto Contador losing 18 to the 2013 champion. With much bigger mountains to come in the next few weeks, Froome is cautious.
"I don't know how much read into that being a one-kilometre climb, although I'd much rather be in this position," he said. "We will approach the tactics the same way as we approached other two days, almost completely forget in that commanding position, start from zero, take each stage as something race the best you can."
Froome's return to the yellow jersey would be overshadowed by a huge crash with around 60 kilometres to go that saw race leader Fabian Cancellara go down hard. There were a number of other big casualties with Tom Dumoulin, the favourite to take the yellow jersey from Cancellara, forced to abandon.
Fortunately for Froome, he managed to avoid the incident, along with most of his major rivals. However, there was some confusion following the incident when race director Christian Prudhomme appeared to neutralise the race. After a brief intermission Team Sky upped the pace again before the organisers chose to bring the riders to a complete halt at the foot of the Côte de Bohissau. Some 10 minutes passed before the riders were allowed to get going again.
"I didn't see the crash, I just heard about it on the radio," said Froome. "There was no message to accelerate, we were front of the race and the commissaires said the race was back on. When race back on, we started racing, then commissaires decided on second moment of neutralistion."
Following three days through the Netherlands and Belgium, the race will now begin its transition into France with a trip over the cobbles. Froome crashed out during the pavé stage last year although, as he was quick to point out during the pre-race press conference, it wasn't the cobbles that ended his race. After two very challenging days in the bunch, he is approaching the fourth stage with caution.
"It's going to be difficult on the cobbles," Froome said. "I'm in a great position and I'd much rather be in this position than trying to make up time on my rivals. The peloton very nervous, as we saw yesterday, everyone's trying to get through the best they can. I've got my team to thank in that regard, for being around me and keeping me at the front. I've not really been burdened; I'm just trying to stay on their wheels."
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