- Tour de France, Stage 17
Froome blasts way to TT victory
Chris Froome overcame the elements and a stellar ride from Alberto Contador to claim his third stage of this year's Tour de France and extend his Yellow Jersey lead on the individual time trial between Embrun and Chorges.
The Team Sky leader, who is set to extend his current deal with the team until 2016, put thoughts of tomorrow's gruelling double ascent of Alpe d'Huez to the back of his mind and produced a tactically perfect ride, crediting his switch to the streamlined TT bike for the final descent for the boost that took him inside Contador's leading time at the finish.
"I couldn't believe it when I saw I had the fastest time," Froome said. "I came into today expecting to limit my losses. I really didn't have the rain in my favour today, but the bike change could well have been the difference. I felt I needed the bigger gearing for the descent."
While many of the early riders weighed up whether to employ their standard road bikes or streamlined TT bikes over the two Category Two climbs, early leader Jon Izaguirre Insausti displayed the advantages of using both, switching to his TT bike ahead of the final descent to the finish to become the first man to break the 54-minute barrier.
The day's forecast had indicated that rain was always a possibility, and the first drops began to fall as Tejay van Garderen crossed the line to depose Izaguirre as leader, knocking 34 seconds off the Portuguese time-trial champion's time after following suit and switching to his TT bike shortly after the second time check.
With that, the heavens opened - particularly at the summit of the Cote de Reallon, the second of the two key climbs, making the descents increasingly treacherous. The downpour lasted little more than 30 minutes, but left a greasy surface flanked by occasional sheer drops for the riders to contend with. Frenchman Arnold Jeannesson was one of the riders to lose out - having passed the first time check with what was then the day's second-fastest time, he lost 62 seconds to Van Garderen.
Jean-Christophe Peraud began his ride as the course began to dry out. The highest-placed Frenchman in the general classification broke his collarbone in a practice ride the morning of the stage, but was cleared to ride by the race doctor and grimaced his way around the course, only to crash on the final corner just 2km from the finish line and abandon the race.
Antonio Valverde showed no signs of holding back on his ride. The Spaniard had already taken 23 seconds out of Van Garderen at the second checkpoint and kept pushing, shattering the American's time as he crossed the line in 52min 03sec.
Behind Valverde, however, the real action was underway. Contador shot out of the start gate on his road bike, fitted with TT handlebars, and was fastest through the first checkpoint, taking 14 seconds out of his compatriot's time.
Then came Froome. The race leader, last to set off, was within two seconds of Contador at the first split, but trailed by 20sec after 13.5km. Riding with the same set-up as Contador, the Briton stuck to his streamlined TT position through the climbs while the Spaniard stood out of the saddle.
Ahead of them, Joaquin Rodriguez blasted through the final descent to assume the lead, taking 20sec out of Valverde, but his hopes of collecting the stage win would not last long, Contador - who did not switch bikes like the majority of the leaders - crossed the line in 51min 42sec, just 0.72 sec faster than his compatriot.
Bauke Mollema, who began the day in second place on the general classification, was struggling to match the pace of the front men by the time he overcooked the final bend and crashed against the barriers, but by then all eyes were on Froome's time.
The rain was falling on the race leader as Contador crossed the line, but the Team Sky leader was not to be denied. Already closing on the Spaniard, Froome switched to the high-geared TT bike shortly before the final checkpoint and flew down the Reallon towards the finish, crossing the line in 51min 33sec.
"It was a good time trial for me," Contador said. "I felt strong. Chris Froome, I have to say, is the best, but I am happy with my form right now. I admit I was concerned about some of the final turns, after hurting my wrist on the descent the other day."
Stage 17 result
1 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky Procycling 0:51:33
2 Alberto Contador (ESP) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +0:00:09
3 Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) Katusha +0:00:10
4 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +0:00:23
5 Alejandro Valverde (ESP) Movistar +0:00:30
6 Nairo Quintana (COL) Movistar +0:01:11
7 Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +0:01:33
8 Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) Astana +0:01:34
9 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp +0:01:41
10 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team +0:01:51
1 Christopher Froome (GBR) Sky Procycling 66:07:09
2 Alberto Contador Velasco (ESP) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +0:04:34
3 Roman Kreuziger (CZE) Team Saxo-Tinkoff +0:04:51
4 Bauke Mollema (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling +0:06:23
5 Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas (COL) Movistar +0:06:58
6 Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (ESP) Katusha +0:07:21
7 Laurens Ten Dam (NED) Belkin Pro Cycling +0:08:23
8 Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) Astana +0:08:56
9 Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) Omega Pharma-Quickstep +0:11:10
10 Daniel Martin (IRL) Garmin-Sharp +0:12:50