Froome leads double Sky success on La Planche des Belles Filles

In shades of the 2011 Vuelta a España, Christopher Froome  led a doubly successful stage for Team Sky on the first mountaintop finish of the 2012 Tour de France. He was the only one who could match and top Cadel Evans (BMC) in the brutal final 100 meters of the climb up La Planche des Belles Filles in the seventh stage. Evans was second, with Sky's Bradley Wiggins third.

Fabian Cancellara fought long and hard but had to drop back on the climb. Wiggins thus moved into the overall lead. Evans is now second at 10 seconds, with Vincenzo Nibali third at 16 seconds, as the top ten was tossed around.

“It wasn't the plan to go for the stage, it was just keeping Brad up there,” said an overjoyed Froome. “But we came to see the climb previously and I knew what the finish was like. I thought, 'I'm there, I've got the legs, why not give a kick and see what happens?' I gave it a nudge and couldn't believe when Cadel didn't follow my wheel."

The end result was the icing on the cake of a dominant performance by Team Sky, who drove the pace and whittled down the field on the newest climb in the Tour. They dropped several big names along the way, due to either crash-related injuries, mechanicals or simply an inability to stay with the high speed set mainly by Edvald Boasson Hagen, Michael Rogers and finally Richie Porte.

In the end, Froome and Wiggins led the high-powered group with Evans and Nibali into the final kilometer. The Froome-Wiggins combination was a familiar one from the 2011 Vuelta a Espana, and once again Froome showed his superior climbing abilities. Evans was the first to jump from the group as the gradient eased, and only Froome could go with him. As the road kicked up again, Froome passed the Australian to claim his first Tour de France stage victory.

“I was expecting someone to surge on that flat bit, and Cadel came through. I jumped onto his wheel. I could see him slowly hurting as the climb got steeper. that was fantastic for us. Having Bradley right there 2 seconds behind, We couldn't ask for more. It puts the team in a fantastic position going forward.

“I'm speechless. That was a dream come true. I never thought of winning a stage here. I'm chuffed to bits.”

Wiggins was equally breathless. "It’s an incredible feeling to have done what we’ve done and it hasn’t sunk in yet," he said on the team website. "It sounds corny but this is something I’ve dreamt of since I was a child – sat on the home trainer in Kilburn watching my hero Miguel Indurain do it. Those dreams have come true now and I’m sat here at the top of a mountain in yellow. It’s phenomenal."

Evans was equally amazed by the young Briton. "Froome was incredible - he rode the front the last 3km or something and he was able to follow me and accelerate past me."

The Australian conceded that the better men and the better team had won."We could have taken a more aggressive role in the race, but when you see [Wiggins] has three guys with him and I've got one or I'm isolated already, what can you do?

"It was a category 1 climb but there were some flat sections, and when you have teammates you're at a greater advantage. It might be a different case on a more consistent gradient. It showed the strength of their team."

While the main battle played out between Evans and Froome for the stage win, Vincenzo Nibali and Rein Taaramae had minor victories of their own, becoming the only other riders to hang onto the front of the race. The Cofidis rider moved into the white jersey of best young rider after Tejay Van Garderen was dropped early in the climb, while Nibali moved into third overall, now 16 seconds behind Wiggins.

With his stage win, Froome also displaced Michael Morkov as best climber, while Peter Sagan padded his lead in the points classification in the intermediate sprint.

A reduced field

There were 12 fewer riders at the start of the seventh stage, four of them having abandoned during Friday's stage. All eight DNF's today were victims of the many crashes in the sixth stage, including Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal. They were soon enough joined by Anthony Delaplace of Saur-Sojasun.

About 20 km into the stage, an escape group formed and got away: Cyril Gautier (Europcar), Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Luis Leon Sanchez (Rabobank), Chris Anker Sorensen (Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank), Dmitriy Fofonov (Astana), Martin Velits (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), and Michael Albasini (Orica-GreenEdge). The gap reached a maximum of about six minutes before settling in at around five and a half minutes.

The only excitement in the first half of the stage came at the intermediate sprint. Orica-GreenEdge looked to determined to take the remaining points for Matt Goss, but the team seemed to have started its jump far too early. In the end, Peter Sagan of Liquigas sailed on by the Australian to add to his lead.

The first two climbs of the day – the Col de Grosse Pierre and the Col du Mont de Fourche (both category three) - did nothing at all. The seven leaders rolled right over them, although on the approach to the latter, Sanchez complained about the fans running alongside.

The gap finally started coming down for good with about 40 km – and the final category one climb – to go. As the road went up and the gap went down, more and more sprinters and injured riders fell back.

The Planche de Belles Filles was an unknown factor, as it was making its Tour debut. The 5.9km closing climb featured an average gradient of 8.5 percent, with sections up to 13 percent, and the final 100 meters at 14 percent.

Garmin was suffering the loss of three riders, with others having dropped back, but those remaining riders spent much time at the front of the field. They were finally replaced by Bosson Hagen, who led the capture of Gautier, the first rider to fall out of the lead group.

Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto Belisol) suffered a mechanical with about 11km to go, and had to race hard to try and catch the field again. Adam Hansen was there to help him, but it was a long haul. Alejandro Valverde punctured shortly thereafter, so another top rider had dropped out of the main field.

Boasson Hagen put up such a speed that the field split. And only moments after starting the final climb, the lead group was caught. But the brutal pace and the new climb did their work, as more and more riders suffered, including Robert Gesink (Rabobank), Philippe Gilbert (BMC) ad Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep).

With five km still to climb, Fabian Cancellara (RadioShack-Nissan) had to bid farewell to the lead group, the overall lead and his yellow jersey. Only a small group went into the final four km – but neither Fränk Schleck nor Andreas Klöden was among them.

In there, though were Wiggins, Evans, Nibali, Boasson Hagen, Froome, Richie Porte, Rein Taramaae and Denis Menchov.

Froome, who proved himself in last year's Vuelta a Espana, took over from Boasson Hagen and pulled the increasingly smaller group up the final climb. Even Menchov fell back with less than two km to go.

Froome, Wiggins, Evans, Nibali and Taaramae went together unter the flamme rouge. Evans moved into the lead with 400 m to go and the sprint started. Taaramae was dropped it was Froome who made his move on the 14% gradient to take the win, with Evans taking second and Wiggins third.

Full Results

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#Rider Name (Country) TeamResult
1Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling4:58:35
2Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team0:00:02
3Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling
4Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:00:07
5Rein Taaramae (Est) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne0:00:19
6Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) RadioShack-Nissan0:00:44
7Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar0:00:46
8Janez Brajkovic (Slo) Astana Pro Team
9Denis Menchov (Rus) Katusha Team0:00:50
10Maxime Monfort (Bel) RadioShack-Nissan0:00:56
11Nicolas Roche (Irl) AG2R La Mondiale0:01:06
12Frank Schleck (Lux) RadioShack-Nissan0:01:09
13Richie Porte (Aus) Sky Procycling0:01:14
14Michael Rogers (Aus) Sky Procycling0:01:24
15Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
16Samuel Sanchez Gonzalez (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:01:31
17Daniel Martin (Irl) Garmin - Sharp0:01:39
18Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
19Tony Gallopin (Fra) RadioShack-Nissan0:01:44
20Fabian Cancellara (Swi) RadioShack-Nissan0:01:52
21Jelle Vanendert (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
22Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team
23Rui Alberto Faria Da Costa (Por) Movistar Team
24Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar0:02:05
25Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre - ISD
26Alexandr Vinokourov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:02:17
27Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team0:02:19
28Rafael Valls Ferri (Spa) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
29Bauke Mollema (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
30Christopher Horner (USA) RadioShack-Nissan
31Pieter Weening (Ned) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
32Andreas Klöden (Ger) RadioShack-Nissan
33Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:02:24
34Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Movistar Team0:02:32
35Peter Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:02:50
36Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha Team0:02:53
37Robert Gesink (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
38Eduard Vorganov (Rus) Katusha Team
39Sandy Casar (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat
40Ivan Basso (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
41Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team
42Robert Kiserlovski (Cro) Astana Pro Team
43Brice Feillu (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:03:03
44Jerome Coppel (Fra) Saur - Sojasun
45Marco Marzano (Ita) Lampre - ISD
46Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team0:03:08
47Andrey Kashechkin (Kaz) Astana Pro Team0:03:11
48Levi Leipheimer (USA) Omega Pharma-Quickstep
49Vladimir Gusev (Rus) Katusha Team
50Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank0:03:41
51David Moncoutie (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne
52Fabrice Jeandesboz (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:03:58
53Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:04:07
54Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
55Dominik Nerz (Ger) Liquigas-Cannondale
56Fredrik Kessiakoff (Swe) Astana Pro Team
57Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
58Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi0:04:12
59Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Rabobank Cycling Team0:04:20
60Sylvester Szmyd (Pol) Liquigas-Cannondale0:04:28
61Christophe Kern (Fra) Team Europcar0:04:30
62Marco Marcato (Ita) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team0:04:34
63Davide Malacarne (Ita) Team Europcar0:04:59
64Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Vacansoleil-DCM Pro Cycling Team
65Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:05:01
66Philippe Gilbert (Bel) BMC Racing Team0:05:08
67Jorge Azanza Soto (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi
68Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat0:05:31
69Giovanni Bernaudeau (Fra) Team Europcar0:05:47
70Martin Velits (Svk) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:05:55
71Anthony Roux (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat0:05:58
72Matthieu Sprick (Fra) Argos-Shimano0:06:13
73Rémy Di Gregorio (Fra) Cofidis, Le Credit En Ligne0:06:27
74Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat0:06:30
75Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team
76Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank0:06:35
77Dmitriy Fofonov (Kaz) Astana Pro Team
78Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Movistar Team
79Guillaume Levarlet (Fra) Saur - Sojasun0:07:05
80Jérôme Pineau (Fra) Omega Pharma-Quickstep0:07:16
81Maxime Bouet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale0:07:22
82Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling0:07:33
83Federico Canuti (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale
84Simone Stortoni (Ita) Lampre - ISD
85Juan Jose Cobo Acebo (Spa) Movistar Team0:07:58
86Koen De Kort (Ned) Argos-Shimano
87Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team0:08:00
88George Hincapie (USA) BMC Racing Team
89Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team
90Anders Lund (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank0:08:28
91Nicki Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank
92Christian Knees (Ger) Sky Procycling0:08:59
93Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team
94Vincent Jerome (Fra) Team Europcar
95Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team
96Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale0:09:03