Tour de France: Chris Froome retains yellow jersey in thunderstorm
Joaquim Rodriguez won the stage while Nicholas Roche was best of the Irish
Team Katusha rider Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain reacts as he crosses the finish line to win the 12th stage of the 102nd edition of the Tour de France 2015 cycling race over 195 km between Lannemezan and Plateau de Beille. Photo: Kim Ludbrook/PA
Chris Froome will leave the Pyrenees with the yellow jersey on his back but in the final kilometres of cut and thrust before this sodden summit, he gave sufficient evidence that he is human, if not exactly vulnerable, to give the merest soupçon of encouragement to his potential rivals. “Tous Contre Froome”, exhorted the morning’s banner headline in l’Equipe - “All against Froome” – but the question for the coming days is how many make up that “all” and how much strength they have left.
“I wouldn’t say anything is impossible,” said Froome. “Obviously our focus is on keeping yellow, [the podium] is a future goal and obviously G [Thomas] is capable of it. He’s fifth at the moment, there is not much between fifth and second so anything is possible if he keeps riding as he is now. I don’t see why he shouldn’t be up there.”
Froome batted away questions around the doubts that continue to be voiced about his probity – so far they are proving more trying than the attacks levelled at Team Sky on the road – and after the stage he denied “100%” that Sky are using ketones, a radical fat-burning agent, which he said he “had to google” when asked about it. Froome, who has never failed a drugs test, also attacked the former Tour riders Laurent Jalabert, who tested positive for EPO in the 1998 Tour de France, and Cédric Vasseur, who rode with Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Team and was questioned during the Cofidis doping inquiry, both of whom had joined the chorus of doubters.
“I think it’s quite rich coming from cyclists like Jalabert and Vasseur to be commenting on my racing in such a way,” said Froome. “I think it’s really disappointing. Those are the guys that a lot of people, a lot of fans, a lot of supporters look up to as idols of their time. And here they are casting doubt on current cycling and a clean cyclist and a clean team. I think it’s really disappointing. These guys are setting the tone – and in my opinion that is not correct.”
Some of the Tour’s most dramatic sagas have been forged when the weather gods in these mountains get out of bed on the wrong side. After searing heat early on, torrential rain, hail, thunder, lightning and chilly temperatures awaited on the 15.8km climb to the finish. French cycling has its own lexicon for these conditions – Dantesque, apocalyptique – and there was more than a hint in the dank air of the horrendous conditions that saw Luis Ocaña crash out of the race after felling Eddy Merckx in 1971.
The action in the final kilometres was not quite on that epic scale as the Spaniard Joaquim Rodríguez surged away from the remains of a 22-rider escape to take his second stage win of the race ahead of the Dane Jakob Fuglsang and France’s Romain Bardet, who had been hoping for bigger things from this week than hunting stage wins. As Rodríguez splashed through tyre-deep rainwater to celebrate his victory, a couple of kilometres down the slopes Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana finally began to probe at Froome.
Although Froome said Contador has yet to return to his best form, when he produces explosive attacks that can barely be contained, the Spaniard had said that morning that he was finally feeling more like his usual self – those close to him feel he struggled to handle the transition from the rest day into the intensity of Tuesday’s mountain stage – and he made his intentions clear by setting his team to work as the main group tackled the lower slopes. His attack came too early but it put the pressure on Richie Porte, who reacted with Sky’s usual tactic of holding the man at a distance until the pace told.
Vincenzo Nibali looked a little more like last year’s model – perhaps his cousin if not his brother – and probed as well, before Alejandro Valverde and Quintana made their moves from a 10-strong main group that included the top six overall plus a rejuvenated Thibaut Pinot inter alia. The first of Quintana’s three attacks dislodged Porte, at which point it fell to Thomas to take up the defensive role, which he did until he reached a point close to rupture. Eventually, curiously, it was Froome who made the acceleration which caused the Welshman to struggle, leaving the yellow jersey briefly isolated and giving at least a hint of what could await in the Alps if not before.
Another issue is how far his team-mate Geraint Thomas will go before the Tour arrives in Paris. In the same way that his fellow pursuiter Bradley Wiggins lost weight in order to tackle the Tour, the young Welshman – who was climbing strongly in the Alps as long ago as 2013 – has slimmed down massively from his track days and has finally been given his head to climb with the best. Here, Thomas faltered briefly as the attacks came and went in the finale of the stage but clung on to his fifth place overall, leading Froome to raise the possibility that he may eventually push for a spot on the podium.
Nicholas Roche was the best Irish finisher as the Team Sky rider came across the line 17 minutes and two seconds behind Rodriguez.
Meanwhile Dan Martin finished in a time of six hours, three minutes and 23 seconds to come across the line in 65th place.
Martin now sits 22nd in overall classification while Roche is 45th.
Stage 12 results
1 J Rodríguez (Sp) Katusha 5hr 40min 14sec; 2 J Fuglsang (Den) Astana +1:12; 3 R Bardet (Fr) AG2R +1:49; 4 G Izagirre (Sp) +4:34; 5 L Meintjes (SA) MTN-Qhubeka +4:38; 6 J Barta (Cz) Bora-Argon +5:47; 7 R Sicard (Fr) Europcar +6:03; 8 M Cherel (Fr) AG2R +6:28; 9 A Valverde (Sp) Movistar +6:46; 10 C Froome (GB) Sky +6:47. Also: 17 G Thomas (GB) Sky s/t.
1 C Froome (GB) Sky 46hr 50min 32sec; 2 T Van Garderen (US) BMC +2:52; 3 N Quintana (Col) Movistar +3:09; 4 A Valverde (Sp) Movistar +3:58; 5 G Thomas (GB) Sky +4:03; 6 A Contador (Sp) Tinkoff-Saxo +4:04; 7 R Gesink (Neth) LottoNL-Jumbo +5:32; 8 T Gallopin (Fr) Lotto Soudal +7:32; 9 V Nibali (It) Astana +7:47; 10 B Mollema (Neyj) Trek Factory +8:02.