Tour de France: Order restored as Froome reclaims yellow

Status quo was restored in the Tour de France on Saturday as Chris Froome (Team Sky) found himself back in the yellow jersey in what should have been a pretty innocuous uphill sprint in Rodez on Saturday, just two days after he stumbled in Pyrenees and loaned the jersey to Fabio Aru (Astana).

The three-time champion had faltered on the steep final ramp in Peyragudes on Thursday, but had superior teammates, attention and positioning going into the final 500-metre kick to the line in Rodez, ending the day on the right side of some significant splits in the peloton.

Aru, however, was caught out and shipped 24 seconds and the maillot jaune to Froome, while Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) lost 21. Rigoberto Uran (Canondale-Drapac) and Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) were the only GC riders to finish on the same time as Froome, with third-placed Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and white jersey Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) finishing four seconds down. Landa, himself, lost 14 seconds.

"I am absolutely shocked to see the same times gaps today as in the Pyrenees, where I had that tough day," said Froome in his yellow jersey press conference, which was limited to just three questions.

Shocked at the scale of the gaps, but not shocked by the gaps themselves. Froome was well aware that the route of this year's Tour – with just three summit finishes and 36.5 time trial kilometres – would make for a tight race, and that every second would count.

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Indeed, the kind of scraps he picked up last year with those attacks on the Peyresourde descent and in the Montpellier crosswinds, which were ultimately largely irrelevant in view of the huge time trial gains, might be of much more significance this time around.

"The Tour is played out every day," Team Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal told reporters in Rodez. "We knew coming into the race that there were only three summit finishes and only two of them in the high mountains. So we've studied each stage carefully, and it's been a case of seeing where we can pick up time."

Team Sky now find themselves back where they started, before the Pyrenees threatened to send them down a completely different tactical path. With Froome not in yellow, all the talk in Foix after Friday's stage was of 'cards', and using Landa as an attacking foil. Yet all that is now surely out of the window, and it'll be back to the familiar approach of total control.

'We're happy to be back in yellow," Portal said. "The jersey gives a lot of power to the team, it reinforces our status. When other riders and teams see you in yellow, and you're strong, it transcends. We prefer to have the jersey, that's for sure."

Bouncing back

With the general classification the tightest it has been for years, we are having to look closer and closer to unpick the details and assess the form of the favourites.

Froome seemed to crack dramatically in such a short space of time at Peyragudes, but he had barely put a foot wrong in the Tour up to that point. On Friday, he appeared, on the face of it, to be struggling up the final climb, but he then went on the attack towards the top and again on the descent.

The loss of yellow naturally brought scrutiny upon Froome's shape in comparison with previous years, and, while a chaotic uphill dash will never provide thorough answers, the 31-year-old insisted he has 'bounced back'.

"I just didn't have the legs on that day [Peyragudes], but I'd like to think I've bounced back since then," he said. "I've recovered, certainly After two consecutive really hard days, that's where it really brings out the stage racer in people, and just exactly where everyone's at. So I'm really grateful, personally, that I was able to bounce back from that day in the Pyrenees."

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Patrick Fletcher
Deputy Editor

Deputy Editor. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2022 he has been Deputy Editor, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.