Froome fires broadside with striking breakaway
WITH one burst of acceleration, dancing on the pedals on a Corsican hill with breathtaking facility, Chris Froome offered a provocative message to all those who fancy preventing him winning the 100th Tour de France.
On a thrilling, beautiful rollercoaster of a course, featuring attack after attack over the mountains on a hot, sapping day, nothing was more telling than Froome's late mini show of strength on the Cote du Solario seven-and-a-half miles from the finish line in Ajaccio when he blasted away from the peloton and distanced the rest within a few dramatic seconds.
The race favourite kicked on for 2kms before throttling back on the descent and the final six-mile flat run into the port town, muscles having been flexed and points made to those who see Team Sky as a bunch of defensive road robots.
A thrilling finish then materialised with another breakaway rider, Belgian Tour debutant Jan Bakelants, just holding off the chasing bunch, who mistimed their final charge, and earning victory by a single second, enough for him to rip the yellow jersey from German sprinter Marcel Kittel, who had succumbed in the mountains.
What a hateful one second that must have felt for David Millar, Garmin's British veteran who, if Bakelants had been credited with the same time as his pursuers, would have taken yellow for the first time since his debut Tour in 2000.
Instead, he stands second overall. "I'm disappointed," muttered the 36-year-old. Yet the focus in Ajaccio was on Froome, with his searing break which felt like nothing less than a psychological message to the other contenders that he is ready to fight all their talk of fire with infernos of his own. His promises to attack now do not feel empty.
The Cote du Solario was the sting in the tail of the 97-mile slog, not softened by wondrous rugged scenery, from Bastia. It was one brutal kilometre sweeping up a gradient of 8.9pc, and the way Froome flitted away, making Cadel Evans on his tail look positively lumbering, prompted gasps.
How Froome knew it too. "The descent was tricky and dangerous so, on the front with Richie [Porte], I thought it might be a good time just to push on a little bit, get ahead, take the descent at my own pace and stay out of trouble." A smile followed. "It's always good to keep people on their toes."
What kept the peloton on their toes just 4km from the finish was a little white dog scurrying out from the roadside pursued by his owner, who had a quick change of heart about his bravery and fled back when he saw the light brigade descending.
Calamity was just averted as the offending mutt sped away. Thankfully, there was no repeat of Saturday's horrendous crash as countless battered bodies gingerly made the start line including, astonishingly, world time trial champion Tony Martin, who overcame concussion, a lung contusion and a five-cm deep gash on his elbow that went down to the muscle, yet still completed the stage. (© Daily Telegraph, London)