Froome leads from the front on Mont Ventoux
Yellow jersey holder extends overall lead in Tour de France after stunning performance on the ‘Beast of Provence’
Chris Froome wins the 15th stage of the Tour de France on Mont Ventoux. Photograph: Jean-Paul Pelissier/Reuters
The Tour de France’s visits to Mont Ventoux are rare enough to lend a special quality to any victory at the vertiginous finish adjacent to the observatory, but if Chris Froome does survive the final week’s racing through the Alps to win the 100th edition of the race, his solo triumph on top of the Giant of Provence could well be seen as the high point.
After leaving Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana trailing, he became only the second rider in Tour history to win on the Bald Mountain in the yellow jersey.
As was the case with Eddy Merckx when he wobbled over the finish line at the same windswept location in 1970, Froome’s effort to elude his closest rival – Quintana – was so extreme he had to be given oxygen for between five and 10 minutes to recover.
Today at least he and his fellow riders can relax on the race’s second rest day.
Froome will do so in the knowledge he has more than cancelled out the 1 minute 8 seconds he lost to Contador and company on Friday on the breezy plains of central France. Bauke Mollema, Contador, Laurens ten Dam and Quintana are between four and six minutes behind.
As on the stage to Ax 3 Domaines, Quintana broke first, springing clear of the main group of contenders .
The damage had been extreme already: the former winner Cadel Evans had disappeared slowly and painfully, the 2010 victor Andy Schleck cracked so suddenly he almost ran into the gravel at the roadside.
It reflected the brutal simplicity of the Ventoux: this climb offers so little chance for recovery owing to the constant gradient that each cyclist finds he has a set pace that is physiologically possible; exceed that limit and the body succumbs rapidly. Quintana quickly gained more than 50 seconds, before Froome ordered Peter Kennaugh to raise the pace.
The 24-year-old lasted four kilometres, an eternity on this climb, and was so spent when he peeled off he came to a near standstill.
It fell to Richie Porte to reel in Quintana, with only Contador and Froome remaining in his wake. As they neared Chalet Renard, Porte moved over to his right to let Froome make the move that could well become the most talked-about moment of the three weeks.
It was a brief, brutal, seated acceleration, with Froome’s fragile body bent almost double revving the pedals with a violence barely seen in cycling on a mountain, broken only for a fraction when he paused to change into a higher gear.
Contador was unable to respond; Quintana was rapidly overhauled.
Bastille Day on one of the Tour’s most legendary climbs was a clear incentive for the French riders in the race to provide the first home winner on the Fete Nationale since 2005 but, as they so often do on July 14th, the French teams cancelled each other out.
A 10-man group went clear early in the stage, including five home riders, and looked set to gain many minutes, but a tactical stalemate set in.
The Europcar team did not have a man in the move and sent their best rider, the mountains leader Pierre Rolland in pursuit. Realising he would stand the best chance of winning if they all ended up contesting the climb, the 10 escapees joined forces to keep him at bay and that prompted Europcar to lead the chase in the peloton; the last survivors of the break did not have enough of a lead to keep clear when they reached the Ventoux.
There are now genuine concerns among the home media that the French may end empty-handed in this Tour, without a stage win for the first time since 1999.
The measled mountains jersey has been France’s traditional consolation prize but Rolland paid the price for his efforts and fell apart early on the Ventoux. Froome now wears the polka-dot vest; whoever ends up winning it in Paris, there has been one only King of the Mountains in the first two weeks of this Tour.