Chris Froome launches surprise bid to claim overall lead in Tour de France
Reigning champion, more noted for blistering attacks on steep climbs, skips the leading group with a fast descent on the eighth stage
Reigning champion Chris Froome gave a demonstration of his versatility in riding away on a fast descent to take the yellow jersey at the Tour de France on Saturday.
Renowned for his blistering attacks on steep climbs, the Briton stunned his Tour rivals by going clear on a speedy descent to the finish of the 184km eighth stage from Pau to Bagneres de Luchon in the Pyrenees.
He caught everyone by surprise, commentators and fans included, with a curious technique where he slipped off his saddle and onto the bike’s central bar to gain aerodynamic benefits, yet still managing to pedal furiously.
No one reacted quickly enough and Froome opened up a 13-second gap by the finish.
Ireland’s Dan Martin won the sprint for second from Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain.
Froome now leads by 16 seconds overall from young Briton Adam Yates and Rodriguez, while previous yellow jersey holder Greg Van Avermaet has long been distanced.
“It wasn’t really planned. I thought I’d give it a try in the downhill as the few tries on the climb didn’t work out,” said Froome.
“They [his rivals] were sticking to us so I decided to give it a go in the descent. It was cool.
“Bike racing is just fun, but maybe I spent a little bit too much energy – tomorrow is a hard stage but I take every second I can.”
Froome’s main rival, Nairo Quintana, finished the stage in 13th place and is now sixth overall at 23sec.
With an incredible 51km covered in the first hour of racing it was impossible for a breakaway to form.
But once the climb of the monstrous Tourmalet began, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and Rafal Majka of Poland finally got away before German time-trialler Tony Martin breached up to the two climbers.
Froome’s Sky were setting the pace at the front of the peloton and Van Avermaet quickly found himself in a group of stragglers going rapidly backwards and seeing the yellow jersey slipping off his shoulders.
The Tourmalet took its toll with 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali also dropped and Dane Michael Morkov, who’d been struggling ever since crashing on the opening stage, being forced to abandon, the first rider to quit the Tour this year at an unprecedentedly late stage.
The leading trio were brought back 43km from the end on the penultimate climb as Movistar and Sky took turns setting a fierce tempo at the front of the peloton.
When the Sky-led peloton reached the final climb, there were only 30 riders left in the lead group.
Finally with 17km left, less than 2km from the climb’s summit, Froome put in a dig, followed by Ireland’s Martin as the peloton broke up with few riders able to hang on.
A group of just 14 riders went over the top together with 16km to ride and Froome immediately attacked on the descent.
The chasers seemed to look to each other for direction and the Briton was away to win a fifth stage in eight for his nation.