As expected, Team Sky came under fire from all angles in the penultimate Alpine stage of this year's Tour de France. As the rain poured down, the British outfit were put under pressure right from the start, with Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) attacking in the opening kilometres of the stage. The move on the Col du Chaussy was followed by attacks from Movistar's Alejandro Valverde and Astana's Vincenzo Nibali, putting Sky immediately in trouble.
Race leader Chris Froome saw his support network whittled down to just two riders, and looked under serious threat for the first time in this race. Wout Poels was the last man by Froome's side at the day's end, while Geraint Thomas saw his own general classification hopes go up in smoke.
Thomas was dangling off the back after the Contador attacks, and ended up crossing the line in a large group 22 minutes behind the stage winner, dropping him from fourth down to 15th overall.
It would still be his best Grand Tour finish, should he keep his position, but it must be a bitter disappointment for him after such a strong performance throughout the rest of the race.
"It was just empty today," Thomas said. "It was always going to happen, but I was hoping it was going to come on Monday, but it came today. I just didn't have anything. As they say, sometimes you're the hammer, sometimes you're the nail. I was a cheapy little Ikea one today. It was terrible. I don't even know what happened, actually. It was a tough start, and when you've got nothing in the legs, there's nothing you can do."
Although his rivals threw all they could at Froome in the early part of the stage, the pace couldn't be sustained. Froome's troubles weren't over, however, and there was another heart-stopping moment for the Sky camp when a mechanical problem saw Froome briefly distanced on the Col de la Croix de Fer.
His problem was exacerbated by a stinging attack from Nibali at the exact same moment, leading to a heated discussion with the Italian for the second time during this year's Tour de France. Losing 30 seconds to Nairo Quintana at the finish seemed small fry in comparison, and Froome goes into the penultimate stage with a serious advantage.
"Obviously today was going to be the big day, when people were going to put us under pressure, and I think that we managed it pretty well," Sky team principal Dave Brailsford told Cyclingnews after the stage. "Wout obviously rode very well and Chris rode really well up the final climb. He managed his efforts and just kept everything under control. I think that the gap tomorrow it will be an enormous effort to bring that back but nothing is over until it's over."
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