The 28-year-old claimed he had not targeted a win and was even prepared to lose time on his rivals in order to save himself for three tough mountain stages ahead, but instead he beat Alberto Contador by nine seconds to earn his third stage win of the Tour.
The victory saw him increase his overall advantage over Contador – who moved up to second in the general classification – to four minutes and 34 seconds. “I was really happy to get the stage today,” Froome said. “When I woke up this morning I was prepared to lose a bit of time because I was thinking about the three stages coming up.
“I didn’t want to spend everything today and be wrecked for tomorrow so to come away with another stage win and boost my advantage with the yellow jersey is a really goodfeeling.”
Contador, criticised by Froome for dangerous riding when he almost caused a collision between the pair on Tuesday, was the aggressor once more and led through each of the individual time checks along the way.
But where Froome chose to switch to a time trial bike midway through the stage — a tactic employed by several riders on yesterday’s mountainous course – Contador stuck to his road bike for the finish and lost 20 seconds over the final 12 kilometres of the 32km.
“It was something we practised for the first time this morning,” Froome said of the mid-stage bike change.
“I was really, really happy with how it worked out for me.”
Jean-Christopher Peraud of AG2R La Mondiale began the stage despite suffering a small fracture to his clavicle when he came off during a practice ride of the route, and he then crashed again two kilometres from the finish, forced to abandon the Tour from ninth place overall.
The same corner saw Bauke Mollema crash into the barriers but remain upright, while Roman Kreuziger had a major wobble before his team-mate Contador took it much more carefully – no doubt warned over the race radio.
Mollema eventually finished more than two minutes off Froome’s time and dropped from second to fourth overall, behind Contador and Kreuziger.
The race now heads for today’s signature stage of the 100th Tour, a double ascent of the Alpe d’Huez, but a bad weather forecast has added to concerns over the ‘dangerous’ descent of the Col de Sarenne in between.
Race director Jean-Francois Pescheux has denied rumours that the stage could be cut to a single assault of the famous 21 hairpins if the weather turns.