Chasing Le Tour: Three stage wins for Froome

by Matt de Neef

It was no surprise that Chris Froome changed bikes halfway through the stage 17 ITT – that fact had been confirmed by Sky hours before Froome took to the start. But it was a surprise that Froome’s bike change affected the outcome of the stage. It might have even decided the stage.

Like many riders before him, including stage 11 ITT winner Tony Martin, Chris Froome hopped off his road bike at the top of the day’s second cat 2 climb and jumped on the TT rig his mechanic had taken off the roof of the team car.

It was a calculated decision — he would lose time in the changeover, but the bigger gear and more aerodynamic position of the TT bike would make for a faster run into the finish line. The risk paid off.

Contador had been ahead of Froome by 11 seconds at the final time-check — the point at which Froome changed bikes, 20km into the 32km stage. But Contador, like his Czech teammate Roman Kreuziger, decided not to finish the stage on a TT bike … and paid the price.

Froome flew home to finish nine seconds quicker than Contador, taking his third stage win of the race and extending his lead in the general classification. Again.

If Chris Froome was the winner on the day then Jean-Christophe Peraud was the biggest loser.

The Ag2r Frenchman was out this morning doing a reconnaissance ride of the ITT course when he crashed and broke his collarbone. With the bone seemingly staying in place, Peraud decided to take the start line anyway and see how he went.

Not only did he appear unhampered during his time on course but on the descents he was taking risks that most riders wouldn’t take on the best of days, let alone with a broken collarbone. David Millar put it best:

All was going well until Peraud crashed on a tight right-hand bend with 2km to go, landing on the side he’d injured earlier in that day. In obvious agony Peraud pulled the pin on his 2013 Tour de France campaign and abandoned the race.

Belkin’s Bauke Mollema, who was second overall before today’s stage, came a-cropper on the same corner, misjudging the turn and colliding with the fence at reduced speed. He didn’t appear to be injured and the crash didn’t affect his result too much — he had already dropped time by that point and would go on to lose second place overall.

Mollema’s teammate Laurens Ten Dam had his own moment of drama a little earlier in the afternoon.

Despite these incidents it was a miracle that further crashes didn’t occur. The day’s first descent was extremely technical and when rain started lashing the course it seemed as if a slew of crashes was on the cards.

But by the time the GC contenders came out to play the rain had more or less stopped and the roads had dried up. Tomorrow’s double ascent of Alpe d’Huez it could be a different story.

The forecast is for moderate to heavy rain and thunderstorms atop the Alpe, which could deter the crowds and make for a treacherous descent between the two climbs. Chris Froome has even suggested that the race could be shortened to just one climb of Alpe d’Huez if the weather is as terrible as it appears it might be.

Of course, time will tell. In the meantime, thanks for reading and be sure to check out the photos from today’s stage.

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