What a difference a day makes. Just when we thought we were in for a repeat of last year, along comes a Sky implosion on the final Pyrenean leg, almost throwing the centenary Tour back to status quo, writes Anthony Tan from Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM


The race is by far from over. It will toss and turn a lot – we will see lots of changes before we're through.

During all their pre-Tour training camps, would Team Sky have played out such a scenario like the one we saw today?

One where, they think they're impregnable, they take the maillot jaune, they pummel their rivals into submission, then defend yellow all the way till Paris – only the very next stage, for Chris Froome to lose any semblance of support, and be under constant attack, or fear the threat of attack, every day for the next two weeks?

I doubt it.

Oh, to be a fly on the Sky wall tonight, as they fly north by northwest to the Tour's first rest day in Saint-Nazaire.

After Saturday's mountaintop finish to Ax-3-Domaines, a Sky 1-2 appeared a distinct possibility. But the tanking of Richie Porte so early into the ninth stage to Bagn̬res-de-Bigorre, culminating in a GC free-fall of epic proportions, means that is no longer feasible. At least the Tasmanian, now 33rd overall, 18min 30sec in arrears of Froome, can now concentrate on helping his Kenyan-born friend as much as he can Рbut it also means Sky no longer have a Plan B; a crucial wildcard gone.

So, what happened?

If we compare Sky's TdF line-up of 2013 with that of yesteryear, one would've thought that the team looks as strong, perhaps a little better, even, than the one that chaperoned Bradley Wiggins to victory a year ago. Four key riders – Froome, Porte, Boasson Hagen and Siutsou – are back for another loop of France, and, notably, Mark Cavendish was in the team in 2012 (along with Bernhard Eisel), meaning they were prosecuting a secondary objective, rather than being singularly focused, as they are this year.

However, Sky chose to eschew their Colombian connection in Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao, who rode the Giro instead, and instead deploy a pair of Tour debutants in Peter Kennaugh and Ian Stannard. And the climbers selected to support Froome – Porte, Kennaugh and David Lopez – after being so solid in the lead-up races and on Saturday, have, in the space of twenty-four hours, experienced an inexplicable reversal of form.

On top of that, Belorussian Vasil Kiryienka, a guy who, just a few days ago, looked so smooth and powerful he could ride all 3,403.5 kilometres of this year's race on his own, hit The Wall so bad, he finished hors delai. As for Geraint Thomas, ever since fracturing his pelvis on the opening stage in Corsica, he hasn't been the same man, and probably won't be till next year.

"They've tried the same tactic as we were doing as last year, but the team isn't as strong as what it was," Michael Rogers, part of Sky's Tour-winning coterie last year but now with Saxo-Tinkoff, told reporters Sunday in Bagn̬res-de-Bigorre. "They have to rethink the situation. Everyone has a bad day; it's a matter of when. The race is by far from over. It will toss and turn a lot Рwe will see lots of changes before we're through."

Froome and his seven cohorts are now faced with the daunting prospect of having to defend yellow for the next dozen stages. Without Porte high on GC, Sky must now tweak their master plan. Or maybe change it completely.

Still, ol' Froomey has – so far – responded beautifully to everything Movistar, or more specifically, climbing sensation Nairo Quintana, has thrown at him.

Combined, Saxo-Tinkoff's Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger is an ominous combo, as is Belkin's Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam, though to a lesser extent. But as Stage 9 winner Daniel Martin said, they need to take greater advantage of these sorts of opportunities, for Team Sky could quickly regroup, refocus, and be formidable once again. Alejandro Valverde and Contador – and anyone else, for that matter – if they want to win this thing, need to show more audacity, because today they had Sky on the ropes, but neither made full use of it.

"I think we saw a weakened Sky today. Chris was isolated for a lot of the stage. And I was quite surprised at the tactics of the other teams, that they didn't attack him more," Martin said in response to a question I asked, concerning what transpired among the top GC contenders in the final Pyrenean leg of this year's race. "And I think it was a massive opportunity for the likes of Saxo and Movistar and (other) teams, to really attack Chris today. And they seemed to wait for the climbs to attack him, and I think that's the worst time possible."

In other words, ride like Garmin-Sharp has done, and almost always does: by throwing caution to the wind – and with plenty of panache.

"I think everybody is going to have a bad day at some point in this race," said Martin, "and whoever is going to have the least bad day is going to win the race in Paris."