Tour de France: Froome takes yellow as stage is marred by 20-man crash
Briton denied win by Rodríguez but gets six-second bonus for second-place finish
Trek Factory rider Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland receives assistance after a fall during the 159,5km third stage of the Tour de France from Anvers to Huy, Belgium. Photograph: Reuters
Chris Froome lost out on the win but took the overall lead on a stage interrupted by a horrible crash that could have been a lot worse. Looking home and hosed in the closing stages of the vicious final kick up Mur de Huy, Froome was passed by Joaquim Rodríguez, the Spanish climbing specialist. Still, he will be content that once again he put more precious seconds into his main rivals.
Froome said afterwards: “I didn’t wake up today thinking I was going to be in yellow,” he said. “That was a real surprise. Today was treacherous; lots of crashes. Not too different from the Fleche Wallone classic this year. I couldn’t be happier to be in yellow. I’m not banking on anything at this point.”
After the squally conditions that battered them en route to what at times resembled the Dutch equivalent of Craggy Island on a particularly bleak day, the riders were already in need of some early race respite.
Most got it, but only up to a point: specifically the steep run-in to the finish at Liege that is Mur de Huy. Quite a few came a nasty cropper long before then.
Although considerably less than 2km in length, this Tour de France hat-tip to the Belgian Ardennes classic La Fléche Wallonne features a gentle climb under the flamme rouge, before kicking viciously heavenwards at a leg-sapping gradient of 19 per cent.
Also known as Le Chemin des Chapelles, the Mur offers out-of-shape amateurs no fewer than seven different chapels in which to stop and light a candle to aid their literal and metaphorical ascension.
After Saturday’s time trial and Sunday’s filthy weather, this was the first chance for roadside spectators to enjoy this Tour as it is ought to be enjoyed in its early stages: wine-fuelled al fresco dining, aerial views of synchronised tractor driving, the gaiety of the publicity caravan and a couple of garish blurs as the early four-man breakaway comprised of Bryan Nauleau, Serge Pauwels, Jan Barta and Martin Elmiger enjoyed their 15 minutes in the spotlight.
Visibly sufferingThierry Gouvenou
With the peloton humming along several minutes after passing through the feed zone, FDJ’s William Bonnet clipped a wheel in front, went down and skidded several metres along the right-hand side of the road, bringing down up to 20 riders, among them the maillot jaune, Fabian Cancellara.
To make an already bad situation even more grim, several of the casualties and their bikes were catapulted towards the metal base of a roadside high-mast lighting rig, but were fortunate enough to have a reasonably thick grass verge to decrease the velocity with which they hit it.
After the race eventually stopped for several minutes so the lame and halt, many of whose kit was now in tatters, could have their cuts, bruises and painful, sleep-depriving road-rash ministered to properly, a by now ghastly-looking Cancellara remounted his bicycle and continued, while a conscious but horribly flayed Bonnet was removed from the scene in a neck brace.
For Gerrans it was a dismal end to a forgettable year that has been relentlessly punctuated by bad crashes.
With the race back underway, at the 40km mark the riders of Astana and Tinkoff-Saxo attempted to escape only for the black-clad predators of Team Sky to zero in on them with great white shark-like precision, allowing Monday’s stage winner André Greipel to increase his grip on the green jersey by winning the intermediate sprint. His day’s work done, Greipel dropped back to a 70-strong group of pedalling wounded containing Cancellara that would finish over six minutes behind the eventual winner.
Main bunchTony Martin
Sky’s Geraint Thomas did a turn in front after the 5km kite, repeatedly looking over his shoulder to check on the whereabouts of Froome. He need not have worried: once inside the flamme, with 500 metres remaining his leader took over, only to be passed for the stage win by Rodríguez.
Froome’s six-second bonus for finishing second will be no small consolation on the second day running that a Briton in search of a stage win found himself in front too soon. Guardian Service