Sky’s Chris Froome opens gaps which have decisive look to them in Tour de France

But Briton was not quite able to overcome the world time trial champion, Tony Martin of Germany

Chris Froome after defending the overall race leader’s yellow jersey during stage 11 of the Tour de France. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Chris Froome after defending the overall race leader’s yellow jersey during stage 11 of the Tour de France. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Thu, Jul 11, 2013, 10:59

WILLIAM FOTHERINGHAM
at Mont Saint-Michel

The tides which sweep across the tidal flats around this legendary monastery-cum-fortress were compared by Victor Hugo to a galloping horse. Chris Froome swept across the salt marshes to obliterate his opponents for overall victory in a similarly elemental and inexorable style.

The Briton was not quite able to overcome the world time trial champion, Tony Martin of Germany, but opened gaps on the opposition for the overall win which, given the relative brevity of the stage at 33km, have a decisive look to them.

The standings made stark reading afterwards. Of the men who started the stage in the top 10 overall behind Froome, the closest finisher to the race leader was Bauke Mollema, one minute 48 seconds back, while the slowest, Dan Martin, dropped 3:19. Alejandro Valverde clung on to second place but is now 3:25 behind while only Mollema, Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger remain within four minutes. The climbers Dan Martin and Nairo Quintana are even further adrift, 5:18 for the Colombian, 5:52 for the Irishman.

Asked after the stage if the Tour was now won, Froome dismissed the notion, pointing out what had happened in the Pyrenees on Sunday, when he was left isolated as Team Sky collapsed around him. It is true that on a single mountain such as the Ventoux this weekend – let alone the twin ascents of l’Alpe d’Huez the following Thursday – minutes can be won and lost.

But in the modern era few Tour leaders have that kind of crisis and Froome has considerable margin for error or misfortune. “There is a group of guys within hitting distance of the yellow jersey and we need to mark them for the next week,” said Froome, but that had the ring of platitude about it.

As might be expected of a climber who can time-trial rather than a time-triallist who can climb, Froome does not have a perfect style against the watch, as he is “busier” on the bike than the true stylists, shifting his position continually as if he is never entirely comfortable, but he is highly efficient at the discipline.

Claimed his scalp
He is regularly beaten by Tony Martin, albeit rarely by a large margin, and yesterday the German claimed his scalp yet again. But it took a spectacular performance to do it: being well down the standings Martin started over four hours earlier and arguably had the better of the conditions.

Froome had a stronger breeze to deal with and, while it blew him to faster times than Martin at both the intermediate checkpoints, it was in both men’s faces in the final run over the salt flats, where the wind was whipping up the sand in a manner reminiscent of the Tour of Qatar, and here Froome lost the vital seconds to close 12 seconds slower.

Martin had fought manfully against the pain for the second Tour stage win of his career, after his victory of 2011 in Grenoble. It was a battle that had begun when he crashed on the first day in Corsica, being taken to hospital and later diagnosed as having concussion, a contusion on his lung and soft tissue injuries to his hip, knee, shoulder and back.

He did well merely to stay in the race, with the blood coming through his dressings to spatter his race jersey each day, but he did so with this stage on his mind and he put up the third fastest average speed for a Tour time trial of a length similar to this. Only Greg LeMond in 1989 and David Millar in 2003 have gone faster than his 54.271km/h.

With Marcel Kittel’s brace of victories on stages one and 10 and Andre Greipel’s win in Montpellier, this was Germany’s fourth victory in 11 stages.
Guardian Service