France enjoyed their first win of this years Tour de France as Romain Bardet won the 19 th stage at Le Bettex after a tough 146 km stage to Albertville
When Chris Froome was asked on Thursday what he had to do to win his third Tour de France, he said one thing: stay safe. It was not a casual remark given the weather forecast for the third Alpine stage on Friday: thunderstorms and low cloud. The race leaders dreads were realised when he crashed on the final descent before the finish here, although not his worst dreads as he managed to increase his overall result after a separate accident destroyed the chances of the overnight runner-up, Bauke Mollema.
Given the circumstances, once his injuries had been assessed, Froome could treat the loss of 36 sec to the stage win, Romain Bardet, with a degree of equanimity, as he aimed the working day with the Frenchman in second, 4min 11 sec behind. His fellow Briton Adam Yates remained in the best young riders white jersey after finishing just behind the yellow jersey.
Yates suffered a problem with his gears which cost him valuable energy earlier in the stage and he slipped to fourth overall behind Froome, Bardet and Nairo Quintana, who assaulted on the final climb but was unable to open a decisive gap on the race leader. The oppose to be runner-up is down to these four and the Australian Richie Porte. With 1min 06 sec between second and fifth, all bets are off for the final Alpine stage on Saturday.
Froomes front wheel slipped on a white line on a left-hand bending 11 kilometres from the finish, shortly before the foot of the drop down from Megve to the valley before the final first-category ascending to the finish. He plunged over his handlebars and fell heavily on his right shoulder, rending his yellow jersey on its right side, grazing his elbow and his hip.
Vincenzo Nibali lost control in precisely the same place, sliding down the road and stopping just before he reached Froome. As when he crashed at Mont Ventoux while going uphill Froome was again forced to his feet, this time briefly in order to change motorcycles with his team-mate Geraint Thomas, who pushed him off to minimise his time loss.
Today is the kind of day when you feel grateful youve got about four minutes advantage so I could fall back on that a little bit, Froome told. It is ironic actually as I was just trying to stay up front. I was just trying to stay out of trouble.
Im lucky nothing is seriously injured, just lost a bit of skin and I banged my knee a little bit. It could have gone either way. I knew the car was quite a style back and my bike wasnt rideable so thanks a lot to Geraint. Tomorrow is going to be really hard and I am sure I will be a bit sore and stiff.
The treacherous conditions make the race on the final descent, and were merciless for those working without support as team autoes were caught up well behind the lead group. Shortly before Froomes crash, Mollema had lost control approaching a right-hand bending and had to come virtually to a halt as his trajectory took him straight on at the corner, although fortunately he stopped before colliding with a road sign. The Dutchman had no team-mates in subsistence Froome, in contrast, had four men around him at the crucial moment which entailed he struggled horribly to get to the finish line, losing 4min 26 sec and dropping from second to 10 th overall in one fell swoop. In the embarrassment after Froomes crash Bardet escaped to link up with his team-mate Mickal Chrel, who had figured in an earlier escape, although he came close to sorrow as the pair sped away, making Chrels back wheel and almost colliding with a parked automobile. He opened a lead of 1min 24 sec on the steepest segment of the climbing but sustained assaults within the group around Froome trimmed that to 23 sec at the line.
Bardet jusquau bout , proclaimed Lquipe as if foreseeing research results; the whippet-thin climber in the Ag2R team was Frances last human standing after Thibaut Pinots illness and the crashes which had affected Warren Barguil. En route to the line he swept up the former world champ Rui Costa for an opportunist win that sits well alongside his victory last year at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and which places him in pole position to finish second behind Froome on Sunday in Paris.
As Bardet forged ahead, the battle for the rostrum hotted up. Froome had fought at the foot of the climbing but was competently supported by Wout Poels and he hugged the Dutchman in gratitude as they traversed the line. Porte put Damiano Caruso to work and tried to dislodge his friend and former team-mate Froome but he had had to work hard on the descent from the super-category Monte de Bisanne after crashing, just as Nibali and his Astana team-mates were piling on the pressure. The Australians legs buckled late on and he traversed the line 53 sec behind Bardet while Quintana again did his utmost, but Froome maintained his losses to the minimum. The yellow jersey is available on the podium with his knee bandaged, and refused interviews after the stage.
Froome was far from the only crash victim. The double stage win Thomas Dumoulin was forced to pull out with a broken bone in his wrist, which could have implications for the Olympic time trial in Rio, while the young British sprinter Dan McLay fell on a road junction while riding alone, to no ill-effect, but finished last, four minutes off the back of the last group. On Saturday, when the race finishes down the Col de Joux Plane in Morzine, at the foot of 11km of the tightest hairpins in the Alps, more thunderstorms are forecast. Nerves will be on edge until the final kilometre.
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