There are plenty of ways to look at the carnage and aftermath of the “Paris-Roubaix” lite stage of this year’s Tour de France.
Let’s look at the cobblestone stage through the lens of the man most likely to win the Tour de France –his fifth overall victory — Team Sky’s Chris Froome.
First, one of his top rivals, Richie Porte of BMC Racing, is gone, on a stretcher straight to a French hospital, after a right collarbone fracture in a crash about 90 kilometers into the stage, before he’d taken in a single section of cobblestones.
That alone is a huge boost for Froome’s chances and a devastating outcome for Porte, who crashed out on the same day and the same stage in last year’s Tour. Words cannot express the overwhelming sadness at his continual misfortune. We simply cannot imagine how you drive your mind and body year after after to get to the highest level of the sport, to be able to actually fight for victory in the Tour, only for fate to once again throw you out of the race.
Porte is gone and if you don’t think there’s the smallest internal smile for Froome, then you don’t know how much he wants to win his fifth Tour. We all saw how Froome dealt with his former teammate and buddy at last year’s Dauphine. Froome is a school boy killer.
Next up and surely out of the GC hunt is the rider who finished second in last year’s Tour. The supremely chill and tranquillo Rigoberto Uran (EF-Education First) lost 1:28 after a crash and despite a concerted effort by his whole team, he simply never got back to the front of the race. Froome can probably cross him off the list of people he needs to watch.
France’s hope for the podium, Romain Bardet, endured an ridiculous number of punctures and bike changes. (Note how this never happens at Sky.) It’s a testament to his calm demeanor and the hard work of his team that despite all that bad luck, he only lost a mere seven seconds to Froome. However, the grand total for Bardet is now 50 seconds and that is a nice little buffer for Froome as the race heads to the high mountains.
Then there’s Froome’s rival (and second place finisher) in the recent Giro d’Italia, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). He came through the cobblestone stage in terrific shape –no mechanicals, no punctures, no bad luck. And yet, for the Dutchman it was a day of disappointment. He said that his legs were great and he had every intention of putting time into Froome and his other rivals on this stage. Sadly, a continual headwind and a poor set of tactical circumstances. made it difficult for him to make a difference. Froome has to be happy that Dumoulin missed an opportunity to inflict some damage.
Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) was also a rider hoping to asset himself on the cobblestones where he had laid down the foundations for this 2014 Tour de France triumph. The Italian finished in the same group as Froome, never showing himself, never forcing the action, safe but largely invisible. Like Dumoulin, he will look back at this stage as a huge missed opportunity.
This is all exceptionally good news for Froome, who once again benefitted from good luck even after his own crash in the soft dirt beyond the hard, bone-breaking stones. He avoided injury, quickly remounted, and never lost even a second.
All in all, it was a fantastic day for Froome and Team Sky. Yes, little Nairo Quintana came through unscathed but the Colombian still sits over a minute down on Froome in the general classification. The Briton can still feel confident that he is largely in control of his destiny.
In the final analysis, only one thing went terribly wrong for Chris Froome in his title defense of the Tour de France — his own Sky teammate, the man a minute ahead of him on GC, Geraint Thomas, remained upright. Had the Welshman gone done on the stones, injured himself or lost time, Froome would now be the undisputed king of Sky.
Oh well, can’t have everything, Froomey.