Froome keeps yellow, Porte and Thomas crash out.

photo from Cannondale-Drapac website

“I guess the organizers got what they wanted.” That was the diplomatic post-stage quote from Dan Martin (Quick Step Floors) as he attempted to put into words how he was still in the race and the shocking events that had exploded right in front of him.

The man is Irish so you can imagine how hard he’s trying to hold back on a dozen crazy stories from stage nine in Le Tour de France. We’d give a few hundred euros to hear his real descriptions when he’s safely in the team bus and out of ear shot of the media.

For starters, Martin was body-slammed, as a fallen Richie Porte careered from left to right across the road like a steel ball in a pinball machine, taking out Martin in a crash that looked and felt horrific. On a high speed descent off Mont du Chat with roughly 30 k to go, Porte misjudged a road he’d ridden (since repaved) in the Dauphiné four weeks ago, and went down so hard it’s lucky he’s alive and has a functioning brain.

It was incredibly bad luck for Porte, who was in fourth place on GC and riding strongly with the whole BMC squad dedicated to his every need. Last year, it was the infamous motorbike incident in Le Tour; this year it was le Chat that got him.

I was at the finish line in Chambery, about 500 meters from the finish line, watching the race with the rest of the crowd on a massive flat-screen. The yellow jersey group was on the decent when the screen went to a series of commercials even as the audio continued, announcing, dramatically, that Porte had crashed.

There was another big screen back to my right so I turned to see the replay. Anyone who truly loves cycling felt their stomach turn as Porte became a one-man demolition derby, taking out Martin and ending his dream of a Tour podium. When they put the neck brace on, I think many people held their breath.

Meanwhile the lead group with Froome, Romain Bardet, Fabio Aru and former mullet Rigoberto Uran continued to fly down the mountain. Knowing the local roads, Bardet went on the attack, opened his gap and tracked down the head of the race, Warren Barguil.

Here we have to pause and give praise to Bardet and his AG2R squad. It’s rapidly becoming clear that nobody else is willing to roll the dice, take chances and be aggressive in this race against Froome. You are a bad-ass little French dude with a college degree and we salute the hell out of you. Last year’s second place on GC felt a little flukey but you’ve made us believers now and we’re on the Bardet train to Paris.

After today, the conclusion is there’s nobody left (besides our new best buddy Bardet)  to put a scare into Froome. Contador is gone and realizing perhaps for the first time that he should have honored his promise to retire two seasons ago. He lost, what, four minutes or more? He looked old and tired and crashed twice and his dance on the pedals looked ungainly and sad. It was like watching a man’s career die right in front of you. Rumor is that he’s signing a contract extension at Trek Segafredo but we have to ask way. Fini, mon vieux, terminé.

The same goes for the little Colombian Nairo Quintana of Movistar. By the end of the day, he’s lost a minute and change but in our mind he lost his credibility as a serious threat for Froome. First, he had his suenõs for the Giro-Tour double, now he’s lost all suenõs of winning his Tour. His legs looked like they were still in Italy, laboring slowing up some Giro climb. He basically followed wheels all day until the big wheels passed him by. Sad, tres sad, mucho sad, embarrassingly sad. Like a chocolate croissant with pas de chocolate inside sad.

All that high-quality analytics data that said Monsieur Q goes better when he does two tours is now officially bullshit. Yeah, he might get better in the Pyrenees and Alps and Froome might crash out and alien spaceships may destroy Paris. Ain’t going to happen and we’re already feeling that creeping Sky dominance that eventually puts us to sleep. (And special sad note for Geraint Thomas of Sky who has now crashed out of both the Giro and Tour.)

Which brings us to the Sky train and deja-vu all over again. Yes, eventually, it was mano a mano, but until the final fireworks it was still Sky doing the usual high tempo dominance at the front. Aru made a dig, Porte made a dig and then they were done, in a deep hole as Froome went to the front and reminded them of his job description: patron.

And here we have to wonder out loud, whether Froome is getting away with some questionable use of the “I’m the Maillot Jaune” excuses. It’s not super clear-cut on the video but when Aru attacked on Le Chat and opened a gap, Froome’s hand suddenly shot up, mechanical, need help, everybody – Aru, Porte Fuglsang – stop riding away from me. Really, seriously, right at that exact moment?

This reminds me of the tour a year or two ago when a few of Froome’s teammates crashed right in front of him on a descent. He was lucky to stay upright and a few of his rivals started to go up the road but lo and behold, wait guys, umm, I gotta take a nature break so you’ll all have to slow down.

On the surface, Froome is all fair play, but after the Sky and Wiggins mystery packet Tour, we have a whole new understanding of Sky and gray areas and win at all costs. Maybe Froome really did have a mechanical but I’m starting to see a pattern here that’s curious.

It’s always tempting on a killer day in the mountains like this to make a big proclamation: Game over, Froome wins, nobody can touch him, fourth maillot jaune in the bag. So yes to all that, even though damn, we’re not even in the Pyrenees and the race isn’t even half over. Then again, who’s left?

Look at the field: Quintana looks Giro-weary and he’s lost his main man and protagonist B Valverde in the opening time trial crash. Contador may as well be back home in Pinto playing with his parakeets. Richie Porte, his most feared rival, is out of the race and in a French hospital with a fracture pelvis and assorted body breakdowns.

Run down the list of GC favorites and it’s a struggle now to see ANYBODY beating Froome. Rigoberto Uran of Cannondale-Drapac is riding a perfect Tour de France so maybe a podium. Jakob Fuglsang is riding well so maybe a podium. A bunch of other guys are feeling guardedly optimistic but not even in their wildest dreams do they think they can beat Froome. They’re just happy to be getting the media attention of somebody in the top ten. Look, a videocamera!!!!

The hopes of an interesting Tour de France (Sagan & Cavendish gone, remember) all rest on the skinny shoulders of Romain Bardet and his merry band of disrupters at AG2R. This guy isn’t interested in following wheels to Paris and maybe making the podium two years in a row. That would be big freaking news in France but that’s not a headline he cares about.

No, he wants yellow and he and his team are willing to take risks and try to set Team Sky on fire. This guy is the most impressive rider in the Tour because he simply doesn’t give two shits how many Tours Froome has won or how much bigger Sky’s budget is than his little cut-rate World Tour team.

Chapeau Bardet. You’re all we’ve got after a strange and horrific day in Le Tour.

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