Stage 11, a nervous 163km from Carcassonne to Montpellier, was full of direction changes, narrow roads, splits, crashes and wind.
The Movistar team kept general classification contender Nairo Quintana well covered until the final 15km, but struggled in the tough conditions due to the lack of feeding and constant, hard pacing.
The team were unable to react as a four-man group full of horsepower - Peter Sagan, Maciej Bodnar (both Tinkoff), race leader Froome (Sky) and team-mate Geraint Thomas - formed into late crosswinds. Their move reached half a minute over the bunch, a margin that was reduced to just six seconds into the final sprint, where the Sagan took the victory ahead of overall leader, Froome.
A six second time bonus for his second place finish saw Froome gain 12 seconds on his general classification rivals. Quintana now sits 35 seconds behind the race leader, retaining his position of fourth overall. The Colombian climber is disappointed to concede time, but glad it wasn’t any more given the conditions. Team-mate Alejandro Valverde gained two places back to eighth overall, one minute and 13 seconds down.
“We got safely through probably the hardest day so far for me in this Tour,” said Quintana. “It was a flat route of course, where even sprint and classics specialists suffered and lost an opportunity to fight for the stage win. We all spent lots of energy, even Froome. He knew how to take chances fruitfully again today.”
Quintana felt that the organisers of the Tour didn’t have rider safety in mind as they let the stage go ahead.
“I can’t help but think we were only lucky today not to see too many crashes. The race organisers often don’t think about the rider.
“They go for different styles of spectacle, but they don’t care about the danger we face on some stages. We were risking our lives all the time. Stages like this should be given another thought before going through.”
The wind didn’t only create chaos in Stage 11, but also forced the organisers to shorten tonight’s finish in the Mont Ventoux. Due to predictions of winds over 100km/h at the summit, race organisers have shortened the stage.
Stage 12 will finish six kilometres before the summit, at the Chalet-Reynard, after a 10km uphill battle. While the decision has been made for riders’ safety, the circumstances are another blow to Quintana and the Movistar team who were no doubt relying on the taxing and spectacular climb to make up time.
“Let’s see what happens tomorrow,” said Quintana. “It’s sad we won’t be able to get over the Ventoux. It’s a beautiful climb, one that really suits my characteristics, one very different to today.
“There’s nothing decided yet. The GC keeps being sorted but there’s still a lot remaining, with plenty of mountains and the two time trials.”