Dan Martin reclaims ninth place as Chris Froome recovers from nasty fall to stretch lead
Published 22/07/2016 | 17:03
Chris Froome crashed but saw his overall lead grow as Romain Bardet won a damp, treacherous stage 19 of the Tour de France to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc.
Team Sky's Froome hit the deck inside the final 15 kilometres as rain fell late on the 146km stage from Albertville and, though he quickly swapped bikes with Geraint Thomas and got back on his way, his rivals were able to put him under pressure on the final climb of Mont Blanc as the rips in his yellow jersey revealed his scars.
But at the summit, only Nairo Quintana was able to grab a handful of seconds on Froome, with most of the damage that was done being physical.
There were dramas throughout the peloton in the difficult conditions, with Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema dropping from second overall to 10th after a crash while Adam Yates slipped from third to fourth having been dropped on the final climb.
That means Froome now leads by four minutes and 11 seconds from AG2R La Mondiale's Bardet, who moved up from fifth place, with Quintana in third, a further 16 seconds back.
After losing touch, Yates is now fourth overall, 11 seconds off the podium, but still holding the white jersey as the best young rider with only one more mountain stage left before the traditional parade into Paris.
Bardet's second career Tour stage win, and France's first of this year's race, came by 23 seconds from Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez and his fellow Spaniard Alejdandro Valverde of Movistar, with Quintana a further three seconds back.
Froome crossed the line ninth, 36 seconds behind Bardet.
Ireland's Dan Martin attacked late to try and secure a stage victory but ended up finishing seventh, 28 seconds behind Bardet.
The result was enough to move him back up to ninth overall in the general classification, 7:10 behind Froome.
This short, sharp stage was designed for drama but it was when the weather closed in inside the final 50km that the race changed shape.
Cannondale's Pierre Rolland suffered a dramatic spill after moving into the race lead out of the day's break, but soon riders were hitting the deck throughout the pack.
Mollema crashed on a roundabout and then out-braked himself trying to catch up, narrowly avoiding a nasty spill on a descent.
When Froome went down, he took Astana's Vincenzo Nibali with him, but both riders were able to continue as Froome grabbed a working bike from the nearby Thomas.
Wout Poels, Mikel Landa and Sergio Henao were able to pace Froome back to the main pack but, riding an unfamiliar bike and with the road rash showing through his torn jersey, he looked far from comfortable as others began to make their move.
After the stage ended, Froome was seen with heavy bandaging on his right knee.
"It is ironic really as I was just trying to stay upfront," Froome said of the crash. "I was just trying to stay safe and out of trouble but I think I just hit a white line on the road and lost my front wheel.
"I am okay - I'm lucky nothing seriously injured. Just lost a bit of skin and I banged my knee a bit.
"Today is the kind of day when you feel grateful you've got about four minutes advantage so I could fall back on that a little bit.
"Today shows the Tour is never won until you get to Paris. I am grateful I was not seriously injured. It could have gone either way."
Yates avoided the crashes but, hanging on the back of the peloton, had looked ready to crack throughout the stage.
He was distanced by the leaders on the Col de la Forclaz midway through the stage before being helped back by two Orica-BikeExchange team-mates and a push from Team Sky's Luke Rowe.
But when he was left behind again on the final climb he was out of helpers and came in 20 seconds behind Froome and 30 behind Quintana to surrender his podium place.
Before the rain began, two-stage winner Tom Dumoulin of Giant-Alpecin hit the deck in a nasty crash which left him with injuries to his left wrist and elbow.
The Dutchman was in tears when he was forced to abandon soon after, with his Olympic time trial hopes now hanging in the balance.