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Thursday 23 November 2017

Chris Froome soars into the yellow jersey

New overall leader Christopher Froome of Britain celebrates on the podium
New overall leader Christopher Froome of Britain celebrates on the podium

Ian Parker

Chris Froome soared into the yellow jersey in the 100th Tour de France with a performance that justified all the hype around him coming into this race.

On the first true mountain stage of the race, Froome came out of the saddle and lifted off on the final climb to take victory in Ax 3 Domaines and build an already comfortable lead over his rivals in the general classification.

On a day Team Sky could hardly have scripted better, they dominated at the front of the peloton with their sure and steady pace, reeling in attack after attack before letting the "Froome-dog" off the leash with a little over five kilometres to go.

Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador had been in the pack just behind Froome when he made his move, but neither had a response, and Froome's chief lieutenant Richie Porte made the point by staying ahead of them to come home second, 51 seconds behind his team-mate.

Valverde took third, one minute eight seconds back, but Contador could only manage eighth place, conceding one minute and 45 seconds to leave Froome sitting pretty in a yellow jersey he inherited from his former team-mate and fellow Johannesburg schoolboy rider Daryl Impey.

"I couldn't be happier," said Froome, who won stage seven of last year's Tour on women's final day at Wimbledon to put team-mate Sir Bradley Wiggins in a yellow jersey he would retain all the way to Paris. "It has been a nervous week leading up to now but my team has done a fantastic job and to repay my team-mates with a stage win and Richie coming second, I couldn't have asked for more.

"It's a dream come true so far. We were put under pressure. This is only the first week, so there is two weeks of hard racing to come but now we've got the yellow jersey we've got to defend it. I really couldn't have asked for much more."

A huge amount of the credit will be shared with his team-mates. They have the reputation as the strongest team in the field, but today they made it plain for all to see as the road headed south from Castres and into the Pyrenees.

There was another huge turn from Geraint Thomas on his cracked pelvis, while Tour debutant Peter Kennaugh earned the plaudits of his team-mates as he led the Sky train over the final leg of the Pailheres, down the long descent and onto the final climb before peeling off seven kilometres from the finish.

Sky never blinked as a series of attacks were made on the brutal ascent of the Pailheres, a relentless 15km of uphill, narrow, twisty roads, where there were long stretches with only camper vans to provide shade from the soaring temperatures.

"We didn't miss a beat," Porte said. "We just reeled them in nice and slowly.

"Pete for me was the ride of the day. We said in the bus we wanted him to go over the with us and he was just phenomenal.

"We are not going to be complacent. It's a long, long way to go. We still have some hard stages. But you look at it today and he is looking good."

Ireland's Dan Martin finished 15th and rises to 13th overall while Nicolas Roche lost time finishing 23rd to fall to 22nd in the general classification.

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