Chris Froome took the yellow jersey from Geraint Thomas as Astanas Italian rider Fabio Aru violated clear to win stage five
Only twice in the past 60 years have a single squad held the lead from start to finish through the whole of a Tour de France, but after Chris Froome took the yellow jersey from Geraint Thomas here, that remains a possibility, albeit at this stage a remote one, with the usual proviso. It is, however, quite a accomplishment to contemplate even if in theory, as the only rider to manage it since Jacques Anquetil in 1961 was Eddy Merckx back in his pomp in 1970.
The finish here went almost totally to plan for Sky. Froome gained period on all his contenders apart from Fabio Aru, who escaped 2.4 km from the top of this brutal ascending and objective the day with a net gain of 26 sec on the three-time win, time bonuses included.
Afterwards, the new race leader openly regretted that his squad had given the Italian national champion so much latitude they did not react when he made his move and added that it would not happen again.
The Sardinian, winner of the Tour of Spain in 2015, had endured a nightmare on his debut Tour last year, cracking in the Alps when holding eighth place overall, and had been forced to miss the Giro dItalia in May due to a knee trauma. Additionally, he was hard hit, like the rest of his squad, by the death of their veteran Michele Scarponi in April.
At 27, and with the support of a strong Astana team, he is ready for a serious assault on the Tour after several years playing second fiddle to Vincenzo Nibali, who left for the newly formed Bahrain Merida team last year. His attack from well back in the select leading group brought no response from Froomes team-mates Thomas and Mikel Nieve, and he benefited further after Froome decided to test his legs with two kilometres to go.
Only three men could hang on to the Sky leader Richie Porte, the Irishman Daniel Martin, who is often at his best on this kind of steep finish, and Romain Bardet but Froome stalled as the road eased, letting the rest of the lead group join up again, before they all tackled the final 20% wall to the finish. Aru, meanwhile, was go for good.
As the Italian sprinted for a decisive victory and one which might bode well for his chances on the steep climbing on Sundays stage to Chambry Froome, Martin and Porte fought it out for the minor placings. At the line, behind Porte, eight riders spanned a mere 20 sec, and the chances are they will vie for the top 10 in the next couple of weeks: Bardet, Simon Yates who took the white jersey of best under-2 5 Rigoberto Urn, Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Thomas, Louis Meintjes and the 2016 King of the Mountains, Rafal Majka.
Aru apart, this was plain sailing for Sky, as Portes BMC opted to expend the entire stage seeking an octet that appeared strong enough to divide up the stage finish and the yellow jersey between them. It was hard to figure out quite why, but among the eight was the Belgian Philippe Gilbert, who can climbing sufficiently well that had he taken the yellow jersey with a few minutes in hand, he might have held it for some time. In that case Sky would have been able to look to Quickstep Floors, one of the strongest squads in the race, in controlling affairs.
Better, perhaps, to keep the British squad in the driving seat on their own in the next few days.
With BMC defining the pace, Froome and his team-mates had only to sit back and wait for the climb. They emerged late in the day, and took over from the foot of the ascending, whittling down the peloton in time-honoured style. As Froome pointed out afterward, there was no need for a dramatic show of strength similar to the one which effectively decided the 2012 race in their prefer; here it was up to their challengers to show, and merely Aru was willing or be permitted to throw down the gauntlet.
Two flat stages await before the next climbs, Saturdays stage through the Jura to Les Rousses. Teams with no long-term interest in the yellow jersey may look to probe Team Skys defences to insure just how keen the British squad are to hang on to the lead, and how much help they receive in controlling the race from the teams of the bunch-sprinters.
Whether or not a breakaway succeeds on the way to Troyes or Nuits Saint Georges, there will be trepidation as the next bunch-sprint finish approaches, after the dispute following Mark Cavendishs crash and Peter Sagans expulsion in Vittel.
Cavendish said on Wednesday that he felt the race jury had made a brave decision. It takes a lot of balls to eliminate the world champion from the Tour de France, and I praise the jury on taking a decision that wasnt based on influences from social media or outside, he said.[ The jury head] Philippe Marien, hes relegated me in the past. Whether I suppose Im right or wrong, the rules were there and if I transgress the rules I get relegated.
On Wednesday morning Sagan made a brief statement, recurring his apology of the previous evening, and to his credit underlining that while he did not agree with the verdict of the referees, he was not going to argue with it. The Tour will move on for what should be a couple of routine transition stages, assuming that such days still exist in this eternally hectic race.
Read more: www.theguardian.com