Greipel earns hat-trick of stage wins as Froome remains safe

German sprinter beats John Degenkolb and Alexander Kristoff in bunch sprint

 Andre Greipel of Germany and Lotto-Soudal crosses the finish line ahead of John Degenkolb,  Alexander Kristoff  and Peter Sagan  to win stage 15 of the Tour de France yesterday. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

Andre Greipel of Germany and Lotto-Soudal crosses the finish line ahead of John Degenkolb, Alexander Kristoff and Peter Sagan to win stage 15 of the Tour de France yesterday. Photograph: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

 

With extra police around the Team Sky bus at the start of the stage – five officers rather than two the team said – Chris Froome enjoyed a more settled day on the Tour de France, with no reports of any repeat of the urine-throwing or spitting that had marred the previous day’s leg into Mende.

The biggest issue, other than heat and speed, was the lengthy diversion away from the route that meant Sky’s bus did not make it to the finish. The team were caught on the hop and in the absence of the vehicle dubbed the Death Star, improvised quarters had to be found for the riders – who had no post-race kit to change into – using one of the team’s notorious supplementary motorhomes.

“We still had some boos but that’s part of sport. We understand people come to the race and encourage the team they want,” said director sportif Nicolas Portal, “but there is a border for me, which is you can’t do something physical.” This is, he feels, “a violent Tour, where our riders are concerned” but he added: “This sort of thing happens every year. It’s usually not one team, not targeted like it was at our riders.”

Rumours

Peter KennaughRichie Porte

The rumblings around Froome continue like distant thunder, with the point being made in his post-race press conference that no Tour contender has needed enhanced protection since, Lance Armstrong.

“Times have changed,” Froome said. “This isn’t the wild west of 10-15 years ago. Of course riders take risks [but] they are the minority, it’s changed. There’s no reason for that level of suspicion to continue.”

After the stage, Sir Dave Brailsford appeared on French television to answer the charge that Froome’s power outputs are outside the norm, and was perfectly entitled to respond that the estimate they had come up with was just that, an estimate, and therefore not to be taken seriously.

The Sky chief called for the UCI to mandate chaperones to accompany teams to look for evidence of doping and repeated his appeal for a “power passport” so that the governing body can compare data for all the teams, but he is no closer to responding to appeals to release any of his leader’s numbers.

A drive along the 183km of this stage showed not a single anti-Sky graffito or placard, from the high moorland of the Lozere and Ardeche to the banks of the river Rhone via 15 miles of spaghetti hairpins into the town of Aubenas.

The Isle of Man was fully represented in the autobus, sadly, with Mark Cavendish along with Kennaugh in the stragglers early because of an attack of diarrhoea from which his Etixx-Quick-Step team said he has now recovered.

The British Yates brothers, Simon and Adam, were present at both ends of the race, with Adam in the escape, and Simon another of those making up the autobus, along with last year’s runner-up, Jean-Christophe Peraud, still recovering from his crash en route to Rodez, who had taken 25 minutes to get into his dressings that morning.

Adam figured in the day’s main escape, a nine-man venture including points leader Peter Sagan, who is seeking every breakaway he can in his desperation to win a stage, any stage.

Another frustrated man, Thibaut Pinot, was present, so too Cannondale-Garmin’s Ryder Hesjedal, but their combined strength could not hold off the peloton propelled by the Russian Katusha team on behalf of sprinter, Alexandr Kristoff.

Cavendish could have been forgiven for a wry smile as he passed through Aubenas, venue for one of his best Tour stage wins in 2009. The man with his arms in the air at the finish here, however, was the hulking “Gorilla” himself, Andre Greipel, who took his third stage in what is turning out to be the best Tour of his career from his fellow German John Degenkolb, with Kristoff in third, and Sagan a surprising fourth.

The Lotto Soudal winner can officially be termed the outstanding sprinter as he, Cavendish and the rest have only one remaining chance to win a stage, the final run up the Champs Elysees next Sunday.

Contract

Patrick Lefevere

The ascent is not severe, but the descent is notorious. Froome can expect attacks from Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali, and he and his tyres’ adhesion are likely to be tested to the limit. Guardian Service

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