Ireland’s Dan Martin dropped one place to 10th overall after the 18th stage of the Tour de France yesterday as Chris Froome all but sealed outright victory.
The Team Sky rider crushed his rivals with an awesome display in the 17-kilometre uphill time-trial, beating his nearest challenger, Tom Dumoulin, by 21 seconds and extending his lead in the general classification to 3:52.
Given his healthy two and a half minute advantage coming into the stage, Froome could have ridden conservatively in advance of two big stages in the Alps to come — but he chose not to do so.
Instead, he signalled his intent from the outset by opting for a different, more aerodynamic bike than many of his rivals and it was clear from the first and second checkpoints that he was on for a cracking result.
But few would have expected him to actually go and win for the second time this race.
He blitzed the climbs, railed the corners and took several risks on the descents before punching the air as he crossed the finish line.
All his rivals could do was watch on in awe.
Bauke Mollema (Trek Segafredo) lost 1:25 despite posting a solid time of 31:07 while Adam Yates (Orica-Bike-exchange) finished on the same time as him.
They remain second and third overall, 3:52 and 4:16 down respectively.
Richie Porte (BMC) was the first to set a truly eye-watering time and when he clocked 11:33 at the first time check, nine seconds faster than Dumoulin’s, many felt his it was a day where he could challenge for a first stage win.
But his speed dropped after that, to nine seconds slower than the Dutchman at the second time check. Following the descent, the Australian flew through the finish line with 31:16.
In the end, it was good enough to finish fourth on the day and to remain in sixth place overall, 5:00 down on Froome.
“I didn’t expect to beat Tom,” the stage winner said.
“I think that pacing was key. I started off steady and really controlled that first part and then just gave it everything I had over the top and through the last part. I’m really happy with that [performance].” Save for the first four kilometres which were flat and the final three which were downhill, it was a real man versus mountain contest, with the gradient reaching 10% in places.
Martin had been expected to go well on such a course and he didn’t disappoint, finishing 16th, 1:28 down on the stage winner, though he did trade places with Louis Meintjes (Lampre-Merida) in the overall standings. “I had the best equipment possible and I’m grateful for that, this was very important,” said the Etixx-QuickStep man.
“I did my best, although it wasn’t easy. I suffered for around two kilometres after the steepest part of the route and lost some time there.
“We are 18 days into the Tour de France, we have 3,000 kilometres in the legs, some very fast flat kilometres with crazy winds and a lot of altitude gain, so it’s normal to feel tired,” he added.
“I felt good yesterday morning, but things changed during the race. Hopefully, today I will wake up with the same sensations. I never felt so good this late into a Tour de France, I also managed to avoid being sick and I’m happy for that. Two crucial mountain stages are now coming and I hope things go the way I want.”
Sam Bennett was first down the start ramp and he finished 171st, 6:04 down on Froome and he remains odds-on to ‘claim’ the lantern rouge’ as last man on general classification, assuming he makes it to Paris on Sunday.
Today’s stage take the riders 146km from Albertville to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, finishing on a 9.8-km first-category climb which averages 8% and up to 10.8% in places.
If anyone has anything left it’s a perfect day to try and turn the race on its head but Froome and his team have looked more than equal to anything thrown at them.
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