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CAMBRAI, France (CT) – After a single day in the yellow jersey at the Tour de France, Chris Froome (Sky) has relinquished the overall lead. But the Kenyan-born Brit appears unconcerned about slipping to second place on the general classification – the maillot jaune is now on the shoulders of stage winner Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step) and Froome still has a healthy lead over his main GC rivals.
“Tony’s a great time-triallist but he’s not going to be there once we hit the mountains,” Froome said after stage 4. “So I’m definitely happy to see it go to him rather than any of the other big contenders at this point.”
Froome’s teammate Luke Rowe reiterated his leader’s remarks, saying the team had been willing to let go of the overall lead when the stage started.
“Obviously we lost the jersey but we said at the start of the day it was literally no concern to us,” Rowe told reporters. “If anything it means we have to do a little bit less work the next few days.”
Chris Froome had gone into stage 4 with a one-second advantage over Tony Martin after finishing second on yesterday’s uphill finish on the Mur de Huy. But a daring attack with 3km to go on would see Martin — a three-time world time trial champion — get clear of and hold off a strong chasing group to win the stage by three seconds. In doing so he took the overall lead, two days after missing out on that honour when his teammate, Mark Cavendish, appeared to sit up early in the final sprint.
Martin’s daring attack and subsequent victory on stage 4 were made all the more impressive by the fact he sustained a puncture in the closing stages and rode Matteo Trentin’s bike to the finish.
Stage 4 of this year’s Tour had been earmarked as one of concern to the GC riders due to the inclusion of 13.3km of cobblestone roads spread over seven sectors. Remarkably, all four of the big favourites – Froome, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) — made it through the day unscathed. There were a few nervous moments though.
At one stage Vincenzo Nibali was cut off by a rider ahead and forced on to the grass before getting back on track. And inside the final 30km Chris Froome found himself squeezed to the right-hand edge of the road and only just managed to keep his balance and avoid leaving the road.
“I actually don’t remember that moment but there were quite a few of those moments along the way,” Froome said when asked about the incident after the stage. “That’s riding on the cobbles — it is hairy, it is sketchy but all the GC contenders will sleep well tonight.”
Not only did the ‘Big Four’ all make it to the finish in the 34-rider chase group, three seconds behind Tony Martin, but Nibali and Froome also showed impressive signs of aggression on the stage. Froome made a move just after the final cobbled sector, with a little less than 10km to go.
“On the last section I was with Geraint Thomas in front and we thought ‘why not try and do something here’,” Froome said after the stage. “The legs felt good so we gave it a go but it all came back together.”
Nibali was even more impressive, attacking on the cobbles no fewer than three times in a repeat performance of his memorable ride on the cobbles of last year’s fifth stage of the Tour — a stage that saw Nibali put considerable time into his GC rivals en route to winning the Tour.
While Froome now sits second overall, 12 seconds behind Martin, the more telling statistic is the gap between the Sky leader and his GC rivals. With only four stages complete, Froome is already 36 seconds ahead of Alberto Contador, 1:38 ahead of Vincenzo Nibali and 1:56 ahead of Nairo Quintana.
Sky’s Luke Rowe told reporters after the stage that he and the rest of the team were more than happy with how Froome is placed thus far.
“We couldn’t have asked to be in a better position that what we are now,” Rowe said. “If you’d have said we be in this position after four days we’ve have snapped your hand off at that.
“We’re a pretty happy camp at the moment; we’ve just got to keep going.”