What a weekend of action! Transition stages that looked on paper to be the usual dull sprint fest turned out to be some of the best racing seen in a while and that Ventoux ascent was just something else.
Let’s start with Friday’s flat and windy stage for what looked to be a stage that would usually have seen an escape go, the bunch tick over and then work a bit at the end for it to result in a sprint. It actually turned in to one of the most exciting stages of a tour in a while due to some strong winds that snapped the peloton apart.
It wasn’t just the wind that had an effect on the stage. Punctures and dropped chains resulted in two contenders, Valverde for the GC and Kittel, getting caught out at the wrong time with mechanical issues just as the hammer was being laid down on the front. For Valverde, a 30 second wheel change ended up with most of his team dropping back to drive him back in to the same group on the road as Froome. Unfortunately for Valverde, his team just couldn’t pull the bunch back.
Valverde wasn’t the only GC contender who managed to get caught out though. Froome and his Sky team missed a vital move by the ever strong Saxo-Bank team with 30km to go. Instigated by Michael Rogers who saw a chance to really make the other teams’ legs hurt, got his Saxo team to drive the pace and yet again split the already diminishing peloton once again. The echelon that formed was 14 riders strong and Froome was nowhere to be seen. This group of riders arrived at the finish 69 seconds ahead of Froome’s group. In the 14 was Cavendish, who took the win easily and Contador, who must have been over the moon with his team for working like dogs to open such a gap.
With many sore legs in the peloton and the following stage hitting Mt Ventoux it was bound to be a day for a break away. Italy took their first stage win at the Tour for three years with Cav’s team mate at Omega Pharma Quick Step, Matteo Trentin claiming victory. In an exciting last 30km when the riders in the break started to feel that it was time to make their move it looked like one of the outsiders was ready to take the stage. French rider Julien Simon, of the small French squad Sojasun, had attacked within the last 15km. He only felted in the last kilometre when several of the 18 escapees sucked him up. Trentin just took the stage by half a wheel over Albasini of Orica.
Sunday’s stage had the peloton tackle the longest stage of the tour, an epic 242.5km. With the killer Mt Ventoux waiting for them at the end. The usual escapees got away but the race was always going to be made on the climb. In a performance reminiscent of stage 8 where the finish was atop Ax 3 domaines, the Sky team took the race by the horns. The last man to push forward the attack and isolate the peloton was Ritchie Porte. He looked to be back on track after several bad stages where he looked to have been lagging and losing time. Clearly team orders prior to today were to not exert himself too much.
Once Ritchie had done his work all it took was for Froome to put in a short but blistering turn of speed before he was dropping the last man on his wheel, Contador. Contador just couldn’t hold the pace. This all happened with roughly 8km of the climb to go. Once Froome was away it didn’t take him long to catch Quintana, the final escapee of the day. Although Quintana held Froome’s wheel right up until the last 1.2km, Froome again showed his turn of speed and took off for the win. In the end Froome opened yet more time on his rivals, his closest now is Mollema of Belkin at 4min 14sec behind.
Things may be looking set in stone for team Sky and Froome, but all it takes is on bad day on the bike and we have a few good stages left for such a day to happen. There are 3 mountain stages and a time trial that could still shake things up.