Friday 30 September 2016

Froome makes a run for it

Sky team leader holds onto yellow jersey after surviving Tour de Farce

Tom Cary

Published 15/07/2016 | 02:30

Chris Froome runs to get a replacement bike after crashing into a motorbike on the climb up Mont Ventoux during yesterday’s stage. Photo: Stephane Mantey/AFP/Getty Images
Chris Froome runs to get a replacement bike after crashing into a motorbike on the climb up Mont Ventoux during yesterday’s stage. Photo: Stephane Mantey/AFP/Getty Images

An extraordinary day, unprecedented in the history of the Tour de France, ended with Chris Froome still in possession of his Tour de France yellow jersey, but only after the race jury determined that the Team Sky leader should not be penalised for running up a part of the hors catégorie Mont Ventoux climb after his bike was written off in a crash.

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Froome had attacked and dropped his main rival for the Tour, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), towards the end of Stage 12, which had been shortened due to 100kmph winds at the summit.

Froome is left in a tangle with Bauke Mollema and Richie Porte. Photo: Bernard Papon/AFP/Getty Images
Froome is left in a tangle with Bauke Mollema and Richie Porte. Photo: Bernard Papon/AFP/Getty Images

But as the two-time champion was riding towards the revised finish line at Chalet Reynard with Richie Porte (BMC) and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), the climb, packed to bursting with fans enjoying Bastille Day, became too crowded, forcing a TV motorbike to come to a sudden halt.

With nowhere to go, the trio crashed into the back of the motorbike, with Froome's bike then hit by another motorbike which was following behind the trio, breaking his seat stay.

Aware that his team car - with his spare bike - was way down the crowded mountain, an exasperated Froome decided to run for it, presenting the roadside fans and millions of TV viewers around the world with the bizarre image of the Tour de France leader running up Mont Ventoux in his cleats.

Plunged

With the stage plunged into chaos, and no-one sure what the rules permitted, a Mavic neutral service vehicle eventually arrived on the scene, giving Froome a comically small yellow bike, which he rode for a few hundred metres before his team car arrived to give him his spare Pinarello, which he rode to the finish.

The whole incident lasted no more than a few minutes, but the fallout may not yet be over. As the provisional results were announced, with Froome dropping to sixth overall having been overtaken by Quintana's group, and the yellow jersey was awarded instead to fellow Briton Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford made a beeline for the race commisaires' office.

For the next hour or so, utter confusion reigned on the mountain, with no-one sure what would happen. Team Sky could not even locate Froome's damaged bike for quite a while. It was eventually found and whisked off by the UCI, which has been doing thousands of checks for mechanical motors during this Tour.

Finally, it was announced that Froome would be awarded the same time as Mollema, meaning not only that he retained his yellow jersey but he actually extended his advantage over Yates to 47 seconds, with Quintana now 54 seconds behind.

The decision was greeted by loud booing from a large contingent of the restive crowd who had converged under the podium, with Froome booed again as he came out to be presented with his maillot jaune.

Froome himself did not say much about yesterday's incident. With the jury's decision having taken so long, he answered one question to French television before beating a hasty retreat off the mountain, telling them that he was happy with the final result.

"I think it was a fair decision, and I want to thank the jury and the organisation," he said. "It was the right decision."

Others were less tactful. Team Sky's sporting director, Nicolas Portal, described the scenes as "crazy", while many were critical of the lack of barriers towards the summit of the climb, especially in the wake of recent warnings that this sort of incident might happen.

Porte was furious. Speaking before the race jury announced its decision, he described the situation as "a mess".

"That cannot stand," the Australian said. "If you cannot control the crowds what can you control? It's not the motorbikes, it's the crowd. They are just in your face the whole time pushing riders. That was just crazy."

Amid the drama and controversy, there was humour too. Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas, on being shown a picture of Froome running up the road, remarked drily: "Well, he's from Kenya so you'd expect him to be good at that."

Perhaps the classiest comment of all came from Yates, who for an hour or so believed he was set to become only the eighth British rider ever to wear the yellow jersey.

"I don't want to take the jersey like that," he said. "I'd rather take it with my legs and not a crash in a bad situation. If I was in the same situation in the yellow jersey, I'd want the same outcome. Froome is stronger than me and the rightful owner of the jersey."

Today's 13th stage is a 37.5km time trial from Bourg-Saint-Andeol to La Caverne-du-Pont-d'Arc.

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