Froome (Sky) has been in trouble at the race before, but he has never looked weak as he did on the closing metres of road at Peyragudes – whereabouts he in 2012 effectively advertised as a stronger rider than Bradley Wiggins and inherited Sky not long after.
The 32-year-old tried but by his own admission simply didn’t have the legs to contest the stage victory, or hold his place on the general classification that Fabio Aru (Astana) now leads.
Froome had entered this stage with the stated intention of controlling the top 10 General Classification and keeping to Aru “like glue”. Unfortunately for the Briton, the only thing that didn’t stick was him.
Aru had been sat on Froome’s wheel before he jumped off and zig-zagged over the uphill ramp to the finish line. The Italian fell short of the stage win, which Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) claimed, but he inflicted enough pain to land himself in the maillot jaune and Froome in a hotbed of vulnerability.
As the exceptionally lean Aru took to the podium, a moving rugby maul of journalists jostled around the Sky bus.
Froome bypassed the turbo he’d normally go to and leapt straight onto the bus, presumably knowing he’d have to take off the yellow jersey that really for years has rested comfortably on his shoulders.
He reappeared outside later in standard kit and went to speak to press before it encroached too far forward and the three-time Tour champion opted to hit the rollers for 10-minutes first.
Then the pontification and speculation as to his mortal show began.
Froome has purposefully trained more than raced this season and maybe that could account for a lack of high-end speed, which was obvious before today. Maybe he had an issue with his gears. Maybe he was sick. Maybe the ‘Deathstar’ has had its time and its empire is starting to collapse.
Maybe Sky, even without Geraint Thomas, is the strongest team at the Tour, but Chris Froome is not the strongest rider here this year. Maybe Mikel Landa, who had a crack at the stage win himself today, should or is trying to take over.
Speaking in the immediate aftermath, Sky sports director Nicolas Portal hadn’t debriefed properly with Froome and in referring to tactics bought breathing room.
“The idea was to try to control the break. The idea to bring back the break was not an objective but if it was possible and all the guys were feeling alright then why not,” he said
“That became by the way of the race. The idea was to attack 5km to go, or 2.5km, or maybe wait until the last kick. Sometimes after a long stage like this when you have one minute really, really steep and hard the more you wait and give everything on the last minute, sometimes the gap is bigger.”
Froome is six seconds in arrears of Aru heading into stage 13, which could shake-up the overall more. It’s a marginal deficit but a deficit no less and one exacerbated now that the peloton is aware of Froome’s weak spot.