Froome crashes back to earth in France
Chris Froome experienced a rough day on several fronts yesterday as the Kenyan-born Briton cracked badly in the final stage of the Criterium du Dauphine, while Team Sky were forced to fend off allegations in the French press of favoritism by cycling's governing body, the UCI, towards the defending Tour champion.
As little as 48 hours earlier, Froome's build-up to the Tour de France had seemed to be going perfectly. His stunning displays of power in the Dauphine's initial time trial and the first summit finish that followed on stage two, coupled with a solid defence of the overall lead, strongly suggested that he was destined to repeat his 2013 final victory – the ideal springboard, as it was in 2013, for a victory in the Tour de France.
However, a crash late on Friday's stage left Froome nursing several injuries, all apparently minor but which, when combined, rendered it impossible for him to chase down a late attack by arch-rival Alberto Contador on Saturday's first Alpine stage. As a result, the Sky rider lost the lead by eight seconds to the Spaniard.
Much worse was to follow in a second mountainous stage yesterday, when a mass counter-attack by Sky saw Froome and the British squad isolate race leader Contador.
But when the moment came for Froome to attack and leave Contador reeling, instead it was the Spaniard who, some 22 kilometres from the line, dropped a flailing Froome.
While Contador powered away in pursuit of American Andrew Talansky, and although he closed the gap to a minute, the American was able to stay clear, finish fourth on the stage, and win the race outright – Froome struggled badly to limit the damage as best he could. Although Sky were able to draw some comfort from a fine stage win from Froome's team-mate Mikel Nieve, Froome's time loss of over five minutes on the stage leaders, and his plunging from second to 12th overall, represents his first major defeat in the mountains in over two years.
As if Froome's sudden and spectacular loss of power was not worrying enough in the build-up to July, on top of that the team had to deny French media allegations of favouritism by the UCI towards Froome.
According to yesterday's edition of 'Le Journal du Dimanche', prior to winning the Tour of Romandie this May in Switzerland, Froome had been suffering from a respiratory infection for which he was granted permission by the UCI, known as a TUE (Therapeutic Use Exemption) certificate, to use a glucocorticosteroid drug to treat the illness.
The UCI has vigorously denied any suspect behaviour – as the paper alleges – in their handling of the procedure dealing with Froome's TUE certificate, saying in a statement that "any rider with the same symptoms as Christopher Froome would have received a similar TUE".
Meanwhile, the Sky team principal Dave Brailsford pointed out that "Dr (Mario) Zorzoli, the UCI (head) doctor, told us what we could and couldn't (do), we've always stayed within the rules, so we've got nothing to hide." (© Independent News Service)