Froome and Martin survive carnage as Tour hits rocks
For Dan Martin, Chris Froome and the other contenders for the 105th Tour de France who survived a crash-ridden day on the cobbles of northern France, today will be a well-earned rest day before the action turns to the mountains tomorrow.
Team Sky's twin-pronged attack of Geraint Thomas and Froome, and UAE Team Emirates leader Martin, managed to finish safely in the main group of general classification contenders, half a minute or so behind the Stage Nine winner John Degenkolb of Trek-Segafredo.
But it could easily have been very different. Froome survived a crash with 45km remaining of the 156.5km stage, just as the riders entered one of the sectors of cobbles at Mons-en-Pevele. Fortunately for the six-time Grand Tour winner, who had nowhere to go when his team-mate Gianni Moscon went down in front of him, he was back up on his bike in no time.
Others were not so lucky. Richie Porte, one of best climbers in the world and a serious contender for this race, crashed after just 9km - before the race had even hit any cobbles - and was forced to abandon, apparently with a fractured collarbone. It was tough on the Australian, who also crashed out on Stage Nine last year, following a spectacular high-speed wipeout.
"It was a brutal stage," said Froome, his body caked with grit from all the dust kicked up over the course of the day. "I feel sorry for Richie that he didn't make it. I'm just grateful to have got through that without any major issues. Now we're heading into the mountains, where the real racing starts for me."
Martin, who crashed heavily on Saturday's stage and needed to have his bandages replaced mid-race yesterday, revelled in the rare chance to race the cobbles.
"That was incredibly hard and I have a new level of respect for the guys that ride Paris-Roubaix. It was an amazing experience and - in a strange way - I loved every minute," said Martin.
"It would have been nicer without all the crashes, but at the end of the day my bike was faultless, we made it to the finish line and we're still in the fight for the podium. Even after the crash yesterday, the team still believes in me 100pc, so I have to give it everything."
The riders will enjoy a rest day first, having flown down to Annecy last night. They will need it after a stressful first nine days. The only surprise yesterday was that more GC contenders were not affected.
It had been billed as a potentially race-defining stage, with 15 sectors of cobbles to negotiate - 12 of them straight out of this year's Paris-Roubaix.
In the end, most of the yellow-jersey contenders came home together, including some of the lighter riders who were expected to struggle. Martin was arguably the rider of the day considering he could hardly walk following the heavy crash on the road to Amiens.
Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) and Mikel Landa (Movistar) both lost eight seconds, having looked at one time as if they might lose far more. Bardet had numerous mechanical issues but managed to catch up to the peloton each time - there was some controversy over the fact that he appeared to use motorcycles to do so - while Landa suffered a crash with 31km remaining.
They were helped by the fact that there was a headwind coming into Roubaix, and also by the fact that most of the cobbles specialists had leaders in trouble behind them and were not inclined to make the race more difficult than it already was.
In the end, Degenkolb broke away with fellow Paris-Roubaix winner Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and Belgian hard man Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step) with 16km remaining, managing to beat both of them in the final sprint.
Perhaps the true impact of this stage will only be felt in the coming days, as the riders hit the Alps. It may take them a few days just to clear their lungs, with most coughing as if they were 50-a-day smokers at the team buses afterwards.
Assuming they do, Thomas looks well set to take the yellow jersey in tomorrow's stage from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand, which features five categorised climbs. The Welshman currently trails Van Avermaet by 43 seconds, with the next real GC threat, Movistar's Alejandro Valverde, a further 48 seconds back, and Froome another 11 seconds behind Valverde.
Could Thomas be allowed to race for himself rather than the four-time winner, he was asked?
"We'll see how the Alps go, see how I feel, see how Froomey feels and go from there," he replied with his best poker face. (© Daily Telegraph)