• Chris Froome mounted a surprise attack to take the Tour lead (Getty) (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
Chris Froome confounded expectations on the 184 kilometre stage to Bagneres-du-Luchon jumping away from the rest of the favourites over the top of the Col de Peyresourde and descending with panache to take the win by 13 seconds from Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) and Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
By
Cycling Central

10 Jul 2016 - 2:34 AM  UPDATED 10 Jul 2016 - 10:13 AM

The Early Action

The initial pace set by the peloton was very high on the flatlands leading into the base of the hors categorie climb of the day, the Col du Tourmalet. This had the effect of nullifying early breakaway attempts, who had hoped to steal a march on the elite climbing teams before the road tilted uphill. 

It was little surprise that riders began getting dropped as soon as they hit the bottom of the famed ascent. Up the front of the bunch, it was only the strong climbers that could attempt an escape and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) went off the front to be quickly joined by Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep).

Behind them, Greg van Avermaet slipped off the back of the peloton in his yellow jersey and, given the early difficulties, looked to surrender up any hope of keeping hold of the overall lead at the finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon. Joining him was multiple Grand Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and young gun Julien Alaphillipe (Etixx-QuickStep) who was sitting in third overall going into the stage. 

Behind them, Greg van Avermaet slipped off the back of the peloton in his yellow jersey and, given the early difficulties, looked to surrender up any hope of keeping hold of the overall lead at the finish in Bagneres-de-Luchon. Joining him was multiple Grand Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and young gun Julien Alaphillipe (Etixx-QuickStep) who was sitting in third overall going into the stage.

The break built up a maximum advantage of two and a half minutes, but a combination of efforts from Sky and Movistar didn't allow the potentially dangerous Pinot a chance to gain much time. They brought him back with 43 kilometres remaining on the stage and 2014 Tour de France podium finisher went straight out the back of the main bunch and ended up losing over 16 minutes on the stage, putting him firmly out of the general classification picture.

With the catch made, Sky set a relentless pace on the penultimate climb, the Col de Val Louron-Azet, slimming down the front group to just over 20 riders. Froome appeared to be after some mountains points as he popped off the front of the group at the summit of the climb, a tactic that would be significant given what happened later.

The big finale

On the last mountain of the day, the Col du Peyresourde, Sky set an infernal tempo, sending contenders like Warren Barguil (Giant-Alpecin) and a hampered Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) out the back of the bunch.  Sergio Henao (Sky) started the attacks, but each time the move was covered comfortably by Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and the impetus went out of the accelerations. 

Over the top of the climb, Froome went on the attack, seemingly to take a few mountains points like he had done on the previous ascent, but instead he put his head down and continued to push the pace. The defending Tour de France champion opened up the gap with some sparkling descending from there, getting as aerodynamic as humanly possible on the top tube as he put paid to doubters who claimed that descending was his Achilles heel.

Crossing the line with an exuberant explosion of joy as he threw his arms up in the air, it was clear that this win meant as much and perhaps more than the victories of the past. A chasing bunch of 13 riders rolled through 13 seconds later with Martin and Rodriguez taking second and third.

The result saw Froome take the yellow leaders' jersey, which he holds by a margin of 16 seconds to Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) and Rodriguez. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) droppd to fifth overall 19 seconds behind Froome. Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Fabio Aru (Astana), Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Romain Bardet (AG2R) all sit 23 seconds behind the new leader.

After the stage, Froome was almost flippantly joyful in the post-stage interview when asked if the attack was planned. 

"No, not really," said Froome. "Really it was a bit of fun really, I thought I'd give it a try. I had one or two little goes on the climb and there was nothing really that was sticking."

"I thought over the top, 'Let's give it a go and see what I can do and see if I can catch someone out.' It was like real old school bike racing...just fun."

Heading into what promises to be a crucial stage in the mountainous terrain of Andorra, the Kenyan-born British rider was still cautious about the small buffer that he held over the other favourites.

"I don't know...maybe I spent a bit too much," said Froome. "Let's see how it goes tomorrow, it's going to be a really hard day. 20 seconds, it's not a huge margin but I'll take every second I can get at this point."

"The guys rode all day today, so I felt that I really owed them something, to give it my all to go for the stage today."

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Tadej POGAČAR
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