LA PIERRE-SAINT-MARTIN, France (CT) – It would be premature to suggest that the 2015 Tour de France is already over, but fans would be forgiven for thinking otherwise.
On the first hors categorie climb of the race, at the end of today’s 10th stage, Chris Froome (Sky) extended his lead in the general classification with a commanding victory to the ski resort of La Pierre-Saint-Martin.
Froome finished between a minute and 4:25 ahead of his biggest rivals on the stage and now sits nearly three minutes clear at the top of the general classification. And there are still six uphill finishes to go in this year’s race.
On this first day in the Pyrenees, Team Sky was utterly dominant. In addition to Froome’s success, the team had a total of three riders in the top six on the stage, including Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte, the latter of whom finished second on the stage behind Froome.
Porte told CyclingTips on yesterday’s first rest day that he doesn’t feel “anywhere near as good” at this year’s Tour as he did at the start of the season. But on today’s 15.3km stage-ending ascent, Porte proved to be stronger than everyone else in the race, bar his Kenyan-born teammate.
After following a strong tempo from Quintana’s Movistar lieutenants, Porte helped whittle the lead group down to just three riders — himself, Froome and Nairo Quitana — and then, after Quintana responded to Chris Froome’s stage-winning attack, Porte chased down the Colombian and passed him in sight of the line.
“I almost felt a bit rude to be honest, to line-scab him like that,” Porte said after the stage. “But it’s a race [and] I don’t think he’d give me any favours. I think it’s good also to show strength in numbers.”
Sky did exactly that. Both Porte and Froome said after the stage they’d been prepared to let the day’s breakaway survive to the end, but when Movistar started driving the pace on the final climb, and when Froome told his teammates he was feeling good, Sky decided to tear the stage apart.
One of the riders responsible was Geraint Thomas. The Welshman finished sixth on the stage and now sits fifth overall as a result. Thomas himself believes he could have achieved an even better result had he not been marking Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
“I kind of did my turn, got with [Alejandro] Valverde … and then we got back up to Tejay,” Thomas said. “Obviously I’m not going to ride with Tejay, to limit his losses, [so] I was stuck behind him for sort of 5km.
“It was kind of frustrating – I kind of wanted to go but I just sat there and recovered and then when Valverde went at the end I just followed him. To be riding like that on a climb following Valverde and dropping Tejay was a great day.”
Today’s stage was more than a little reminiscent of stage 8 of the 2013 Tour de France, a stage which Chris Froome won ahead of teammate Richie Porte, en route to Froome’s overall victory in the race. While Sky had been dominant that day as well — Froome and Porte were 1-2 on GC by stage’s end — they paid for their exertions the following day.
Vasil Kiryienka missed the time cut and Richie Porte blew up spectacularly, losing nearly 18 minutes on the stage and leaving Chris Froome isolated in the mountains. Both Porte and Froome acknowledged after today’s stage that they’d gotten “carried away” on that day back in 2013, and that the team has learned its lesson.
“We’re definitely going to be on our guard now,” Froome said. “We did put in a lot of effort today and we’re going to have to gauge that over the next few days and see how much … we pay for that.
“But I think the guys showed in the team time trial just how strong the team is. I’d like to think we’re not going to see a repeat of that stage … back in 2013. But let’s see what happens — this race is far from over.”
Froome’s biggest rivals might be forgiven for thinking otherwise. Last year’s winner, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was already well down on GC but today kissed his chances of a second Tour win goodbye.
“I could hardly follow my own team-mates. I tried to pace my effort, but I dropped after four kilometres and decided to climb more gradually,” Nibali said, after losing another 4:25 to Froome. “It’s going to be difficult now. Physically I feel pretty well. But I can’t give anymore. I’m not the same Vincenzo Nibali as last year.”
For Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), questions about the impact of riding the Giro-Tour double appear to have been answered. The Spaniard finished 11th on today’s stage, nearly three minutes behind Froome.
“I knew it was an important day today. I wanted not to lose too much time but I couldn’t breathe,” Contador said after the stage. “We’re going to see what we can do to, whether we can improve our overall ranking. The priority is to relax, sit back, consider the situation calmly and act accordingly.”
Tejay van Garderen (BMC), meanwhile, retains his second place overall after finishing 10th on the stage, but the margin between he and Froome has blown out to 2:52.
“Sky definitely put on quite the performance. I tried my best to stay with them. When it got too much for me, I tried to stay in my rhythm and focused on getting to the top,” van Garderen said. “I don’t think today was my best day. But it wasn’t all bad. I am still keeping a good GC (general classification) position.”
It remains to be seen whether today’s display from Sky is simply the start of the team’s dominance in the mountains of this year’s Tour or if, as in 2013, other climbers will rally as the race unfolds. Many riders reported being unsettled by such a tough climb on the first stage after the rest day and perhaps those riders will bounce back in the following two Pyrenean stages.
It also remains to be seen whether anyone can claw back enough time to challenge Chris Froome on the general classification or whether Sky’s leader will continue to extend his advantage.
Fans and journalists alike will be hoping for the former.