Chris Froome launched a blistering attack on the slopes of Mont Ventoux to silence the doubters and claim Stage 15 of the Tour de France.
With so much written about the cracks appearing in Team Sky and questioning whether Froome could hold the yellow jersey all the way to Paris, Froome answered the only way he knows how – by smashing his rivals.
A relatively sedate stage was lit up with 7.2 kilometres left when Froome attacked Saxo Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador and set off solo to chase Movistar’s Nairo Quintana, who was out in front on his own after an earlier attack.
It was a move that would prove to be decisive for the stage and more than likely for the General Classification. The only two riders left with Frome at that stage were his team-mate Richie Porte and Contador, with the pace being set by Porte (and earlier by Peter Kennaugh) having already caused a split and seen most of Froome’s nearest rivals fall off the back, including Belkin’s Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam.
When Froome jumped out of the saddle and put in an acceleration, Contador had nothing to answer with and he and Porte watched the Kenyan born Brit ride away.
Within seconds, Froome was on terms with Quintana; with whom he would work with until just over a kilometre from the finish, when Froome’s pace was too much and Quintana let Froome ride off solo and claim the King of the Mountain and the stage win.
Quintana held on for second, 29 seconds behind Froome, with his effort enough to move him up to 7th overall.
Contador had to work with Mikel Nieve of Euskaltel-Euskadi after being dropped, but even with the assistance of his countryman, Contador would end up slipping to sixth position on the stage, 1’40” behind Froome.
Nieve held on for third place, Katusha’s Joaquin Rodriguez attacked late to propel himself to fourth, while Contador’s team-mate Roman Kreuziger recovered from earlier difficulties to grab himself fifth spot.
Quintana’s ride was enough to give him the lead back in the Young Riders Classification, opening up a gap of 2’45” over Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Michal Kwiatkowski.
But the man who deserves the headlines is Chris Froome. A stage win up Ventoux, extending his lead in the General Classification and taking the lead in the Mountains Classification – not a bad day from someone who was subject to so much doubt and criticism in the past few days.
I was one of those questioning Froome and the strength of his team, but we were reminded today of just how strong he was in the big mountains in last year’s Tour, and he looks like he’s just as strong this year.
With gaps of over 4 minutes to his main rivals (4’14” to Mollema, 4’25” to Contador, 4’28” to Kreuziger and 4’54” to ten Dam), Froome is going to be incredibly difficult to catch – particularly with a time trial in the mountains still to come, a stage he’ll be expected to win and win easily.
Still, the race isn’t quite over, the doubts over Team Sky still linger, with Porte and Kennaugh working so hard today, will they be there for Froome in the coming days? How much will the effort up Ventoux taken out of Froome? Will his legs give out on the time trial?
If today taught us anything, it’s that you question Froome and Sky at your own peril. Those questions were being asked in the lead up to Stage 15 because many of us believed Froome was truly vulnerable and that the race was anything but over. Now it feels like we’re asking them to keep some interest in the race. The 2013 Tour de France will be won by an Englishman who was born in Kenya, and by a considerable margin.