Chris Froome (Sky) turned the Tour de France on its head today at his first opportunity, the summit finish to Ax 3 Domaines ski resort.
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) cracked under the baking sun. Others – Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) – slipped away earlier.
“They ripped our eyes out,” Contador said to Spanish journalists. “I know the climb well, and I was hoping to fight for the victory, but it wasn’t meant to be.”
“I am certainly not at my best,” Evans added. “I certainly didn’t expect to be this far off the best.”
When the results sheets appeared, Froome led by 51 seconds and that was to his own team-mate, Richie Porte.
Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) sat third by 1-25 minutes. Belkin’s duo Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam placed in fourth and fifth overall at nearly two minutes.
Contador and Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha) ranked around two minutes. Evans and Hesjedal could begin to forget about a podium place.
“On the Col de Pailhères, I was already having a bit of a hard time and [that] put me a bit on my limit which is always a cause for concern,” Evans continued.
“On the last climb, I had a few physical problems… I couldn’t even push myself to my maximum. And at that point when you see 20 guys riding away from you know it’s a long way off the pace.”
Americans Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) hoped for a better day helping their team leaders.
Van Garderen placed fifth overall last year, ahead of Evans.
“It was on the first climb. The heat really started getting to me, which was strange, because I’ve done a lot to prepare for the heat, with the sauna,” van Garderen told the media.
“I just didn’t have the power. I got a little bit of chills. I wasn’t massively dehydrated. I felt like my normal self, minus 30 per cent. You cannot miss that 30 per cent at the Tour.”
Talansky saw it coming.
“It was always going to happen. They have the best rider in the race, and they wanted to show it,” Talansky said at the Garmin team car.
“They make it as hard as possible on the first climb. Richie takes over, and they blow it to pieces… You know it’s going to happen. You know it’s coming. Unless you’re having a very special day, you know you’re going to explode.”
Froome’s gains could stick, or even grow. He is favoured for the time trial on Wednesday and set to do the same on Mont Ventoux next weekend. The Tour has just begun, but for many it feels finished.
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Froome wins Tour mountain stage to take overall lead
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