Froome wins time trial to strengthen grip on yellow jersey
Chris Froome enjoyed an unexpected bonus with victory in today's individual time trial to Chorges strengthening his lead in the 100th Tour de France.
The 28-year-old claimed he had not targeted a win today and was even prepared to lose time on his rivals in order to save himself for three tough mountain stages ahead, but instead he beat Alberto Contador by nine seconds to earn his third stage win of the Tour.
The victory saw him increase his overall advantage over Contador - who moved up to second in the general classification - to four minutes and 34 seconds.
"I was really happy to get the stage today," Froome said. "When I woke up this morning I was prepared to lose a bit of time because I was thinking about the three stages coming up.
"I didn't want to spend everything today and be wrecked for tomorrow so to come away with another stage win and boost my advantage with the yellow jersey is a really good feeling."
Contador, criticised by Froome for dangerous riding when he almost caused a collision between the pair yesterday, was the aggressor once more and led through each of the individual time checks along the way.
But where Froome chose to switch to a time trial bike midway through the stage - a tactic employed by several riders on today's mountainous course - Contador stuck to his road bike for the finish and lost 20 seconds over the final 12 kilometres of the 32km.
"It was something we practised for the first time this morning," Froome said of the mid-stage bike change. "I was really, really happy with how it worked out for me.
"It was a call we made this morning after seeing the course and thinking about the gearing on the bikes. We wanted to have a much bigger fear for the second part of the descent, and I do believe that helped me make up time on Alberto."
While Contador was riding aggressively, Froome looked much more cautious on roads dampened by rain throughout the afternoon - although thunderstorms predicted to hit about half an hour before Froome was due to start stayed away.
Froome - riled by yesterday's near-miss with Contador - was employing a strict no-risk policy and there were clear reminders of the dangers posed by the course and the conditions on it.
Jean-Christopher Peraud of AG2R La Mondiale began the stage despite suffering a small fracture to his clavicle when he came off during a practice ride of the route this morning, and he then crashed again two kilometres from the finish, forced to abandon the Tour from ninth place overall.
The same corner saw Bauke Mollema crash into the barriers but remain upright, while Roman Kreuziger had a major wobble before his team-mate Contador took it much more carefully - no doubt warned over the race radio.
Mollema eventually finished more than two minutes off Froome's time and dropped from second to fourth overall, behind Contador and Kreuziger.
Froome's victory makes him only the second Briton to win more than two stages of a single Tour, while the other - Mark Cavendish - was happy to finish more than seven and a half minutes off the pace in 160th place after suffering from an upset stomach yesterday.
Contador's attacking style came as no surprise to Froome, who expects to see more of it in the next few days.
"Alberto has shown time and time again that he is not a rider to give up," he said.
"Even though he is more than four minutes behind he's going to keep pushing every day and we expect him to keep pushing like this all the way to Paris."
The race now heads for tomorrow's signature stage of the 100th Tour, a double ascent of the Alpe d'Huez, but a bad weather forecast has added to concerns over the 'dangerous' descent of the Col de Sarenne in between.
Race director Jean-Francois Pescheux has denied rumours that the stage could be cut to a single assault of the famous 21 hairpins if the weather turns, but Froome called on organisers to put rider safety first.
"I think it would be sad not to do the planned parcours and the two ascents of Alpe d'Huez as it's something special to go along with the 100th Tour de France," he said.
"But having said that, safety definitely comes first. It's a dangerous descent but if it starts raining I would hope the race organisers make the decision to make it just one terms. The safety of riders has to come first."