Where to start? On a day of high drama and several controversial incidents at Tour de France, perhaps the only crumb of normality and regularity came when Chris Froome (Team Sky) stepped onto the podium to collect the maillot jaune. Between the start in Nantua and the finish in Chambery almost anything seemed possible, with the race reaching a dramatic crescendo that began on the slopes of the Mont du Chat and didn't fade until long after the finish line.
Richie Porte's Tour de France sadly ended with the rider taken to hospital after a horrible fall on the final descent, Alberto Contador's Grand Tour career melted away in the heat of the Jura, Nairo Quintana once again flattered to deceive, AG2R proved once again that they are the bravest team in the race, Fabio Aru attacked Froome when the Sky rider was having a mechanical and Rigoberto Uran won his maiden Tour stage.
"I've really mixed feelings today," Froome said as he tried to summarise perhaps the most chaotic stage at the Tour since last year's Mont Ventoux debacle.
"Of course I'm still happy to be in yellow and my position in the stage and how my teammates rolled with a controlled performance. But after seeing the images of Richie's crash. That was horrific and left me with a horrible feeling."
Once the haze had cleared and the drama settled, the results sheet confirmed that Froome's GC position had in fact improved by the time he crossed the line, with the Team Sky leader picking up four bonus seconds in the sprint for the line. Thomas's withdrawal means that Fabio Aru (Astana) moves into second, 18 seconds off yellow, with Romain Bardet (AG2R) in third at a further 33 seconds adrift.
"Of course I lost my teammate Geraint, who was sitting in second place on GC. That's a big loss for us and for him of course."
Froome's performance will perhaps be overshadowed by the day's events, but he marshalled a number of attacks from Porte, Aru, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), and Bardet. The three-time winner also put in his own accelerations and was part of the chase group that drew back 30 seconds on Bardet after the Frenchman had attacked on the descent of the Mont du Chat.
However, the main talking point concerning Froome came after Aru attacked him on the final ascent. The Italian's move came just after Froome had put his hand up to indicate that he was suffering from a mechanical. The Italian later claimed that he didn't see Froome's gesture or that he was having problems with his bike – a puzzling statement given that he was riding just behind the yellow jersey when he attacked.
Froome also tried to play down the situation. First saying that he didn't see Aru's attack and secondly that there was no malice when he appeared to put his shoulder into the Italian after regaining contact with the leaders. Froome did appear to immediately hold up his hand after swerving into the Italian's line, but on such a tense day every pedal stroke and every wheel spin was bound to be scrutinised.
"No, I wasn't aware of Fabio's attack," Froome said. "I only found out about that at the finish here a few journalists have told me about that. At the time I was too busy looking for my team car to look for a spare bike, but from what I can understand when I got back to the group it looked as if Richie had asked, said to the rest of my rivals, 'Listen guys, this isn't the moment to attack the leader of the race when he's got a mechanical problem'. I just want to say thank you to Richie, thank you to the rest of that group for not taking advantage of that moment."
As for the second incident, when Froome appeared to ride into Aru, the race leader added: "When I came back I had a bit of a wobble on one of the switchbacks. it was in no way a swipe at Aru for attacking or anything like that. I didn't even know he had attacked."
Brailsford refuses to talk
Froome at least was in a talkative mood after the stage. Cyclingnews approached Dave Brailsford for comment outside the Team Sky bus and for a rare moment at this Tour he appeared willing to talk as Eurosport raised their cameras. However, the excitement was short-lived.
When Cyclingnews and a second journalist from another respected publication indicated that they wanted to be party to the Team Sky principal's musings, Brailsford made clear, and in no uncertain terms, that he would not only refuse to answer our questions but that we were not allowed to record the Eurosport interview. The interchange ended when Cyclingnews asked if we could record the piece. "No," replied Brailsford. "Hey, I'm fucking telling you now," he added.
And so the last word on the day went to Froome, who navigated through the most difficult day of the Tour so far with his lead slightly improved and several rivals either out the race or just out of contention.
"I think I said yesterday I expected the GC to get blown wide open today, and it has in a lot of ways. I think if you look at the top 10 now there's no longer 10 guys within the same minute. I think it's a lot more spread out now. I think today's stage was brutal. Obviously for us, losing Geraint Thomas was a massive hit, for the race to lose Richie Porte is also a big blow. I think no one wants to see a big contender like him go out like he did today, that was horrific."
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