Chris Froome accused rival teams of becoming "desperate" and taking "uncalculated risks" after he came close to crashing on the final descent when Alberto Contador fell off his bike.
As the pressure mounted on the road, Dave Brailsford repeated his attempts to quell doping insinuations about the team by revealing that he has contacted UK Anti-Doping hoping they can provide an objective interpretation of the team’s physiological data. “I called Ukada this morning and asked if they are ready to take all our data and if they can help us,” the head of Team Sky said.
Froome made a brief excursion off the road after Contador’s crash, having to unclip from his pedals to lift his bike back on to the tarmac, and although his overall lead was not affected, he was clearly unhappy with the way the Spaniard and his team had ridden.
“I think he was taking too many risks down there. He couldn’t control his speed. He had just come through quickly and was struggling to control his bike. Contador and Roman Kreuziger were taking it in turns to come from the back with a bit of an acceleration, opening a small gap, hoping that I would lay off a bit and leave a gap. I was trying to keep safe but they were pushing the limits.”
Contador responded by saying: “For me there is no motivation to be calm and sit on their wheel in the bunch. Whenever I see there is a chance, I’ll try, either at the beginning or the end of a race, and we’ll see what the result is in Paris.”
The descent has a notorious reputation: in 2003 the Spaniard Joseba Beloki skidded on the melting surface and broke his elbow, and, avoiding Beloki, Lance Armstrong ended up riding cyclo-cross style across a field and back on to the road. As Froome said: “One moment you can be going for the finish, the next lying in a ditch with a broken bone.” And to make the point, one bend below where Beloki fell, Froome skidded again.
Perhaps it was the heat, recorded close to 40C at times, but Contador had a beef of his own, making an ironic gesture at the Colombian Nairo Quintana when he rejoined the group of contenders; he was apparently angry that Quintana and his Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde had attacked him when he was on the deck. Earlier, Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez had launched searing attacks on the climb to the top of the Col de Manse, ripping the peloton to pieces and briefly putting Froome under pressure before his Sky colleague Richie Porte restored some order.
Movistar had various points to prove. Their stage winner here, Alberto Rui Costa, won the Tour of Switzerland just before the Tour started, and would have been a contender for a high place overall if he had not been asked to wait for Valverde last Friday when his team leader punctured as the crosswind battle en route to Saint-Amand-Montrond was at its height. He was delighted at his second Tour stage win but his smile went stony after the finish when he was reminded of his five-month doping suspension in 2010.
The team who did most to prevent Valverde and Rui Costa rejoining the peloton on that occasion were the Dutchmen of Belkin, and so it was no surprise to see Valverde setting a hot pace when Laurens ten Dam was unable to keep up with the group. At the finish, Ten Dam had lost a minute, and his fifth place overall to Quintana.
The Alps dominated the horizon late on, but early in the stage lavender scent filled the air, and so did the bulk of Mont Ventoux. Here, it was Garmin who attempted to take the race to Sky, with Dan Martin figuring in a large lead group on the first climb but when order was regained, a 26-rider group were given their head. Including no threats overall, they were permitted to gain 12 minutes, and it was from this group that Costa sprang clear.
The time trial today is similar in length to the one at Mont Saint-Michel where Froome was vastly superior to the other overall contenders and it includes two steep climbs. A third stage win for the leader is on the cards but the descents are extremely tricky and heavy rain is forecast. After yesterday's near misses, there could be more jangling nerves in store.