(Reuters) – Chris Froome survived a brutal early onslaught from his Tour de France rivals to retain the yellow jersey after an epic ninth stage won by Ireland’s Dan Martin yesterday.
Having destroyed the field to snatch the overall lead in Saturday’s opening mountain stage ahead of fellow Team Sky rider Richie Porte, the Briton had exposed himself to retaliation.
The Garmin-Sharp, Movistar and Saxo-Tinkoff teams blew the peloton apart in the first of five climbs on a searing hot day in the Pyrenees ahead of the rest day, with Froome soon finding himself isolated.
The moves eliminated Froome’s lieutenant Porte, who lost his second place overall, and restored hope among the other teams that the Tour was not over yet.
Overall, Froome leads Spaniard Alejandro Valverde by 1:25 while Porte, who finished 17:59 behind, dropped well outside the top 20 as hopes of a second consecutive Team Sky one-two evaporated.
Froome, however, had an answer for every attack from Valverde’s Movistar team mates, with Alberto Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff aides also joining the fight initiated by Garmin-Sharp’s Tom Danielson, David Millar, Ryder Hesjedal and Martin, who is now eighth overall.
“It was one of the hardest days I’ve had on my bike,” Froome told a news conference.
“It was a very difficult position to be in, but I’m really happy with how I’ve come through today having lost not too much time.
“It was quite straightforward however because my biggest rivals were in that group and obviously the objective for me was to make sure I’d stay with those guys.”
The Movistar team were in control of a leading group in the last three climbs of the day but they ran out of energy and were eventually content with having eliminated Porte from the overall reckoning.
“It was a very tough day. In the end we eliminated Froome’s team mates but he was really strong,” Valverde, who finished in the leading group 20 seconds behind Martin, told reporters.