Chris Froome’s attempt to win a second successive Tour de France ended in bitter disappointment after less than a week of the race when he crashed out on stage five yesterday.
On a miserable, rain-sodden day in northern France, the Briton appeared in great pain after falling for the second time, some 70 kilometres from the finish.
The Team Sky rider stood holding the wrist he injured in another spill on Tuesday, and was limping heavily as he eventually climbed into a team vehicle after chatting to team doctor Alan Farrell and sports director Nicolas Portal. Earlier in the stage, a 152.5-km ride from Ypres, Belgium, Froome suffered his second crash in two days.
Froome hurt his wrist and suffered bruises to his left side in a fall on stage four but was cleared to start stage five which featured several treacherous cobbled sectors – although both of Froome’s falls yesterday occurred before the pavé began.
The first fall was not too bad and he was helped back into the main bunch by his Sky team-mates, but the second accident of the day proved one too many.
The 29-year-old’s build-up to the raced was hardly ideal after a heavy crash last month on the Criterium du Dauphiné.
Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford said: “Obviously it’s devastating for Chris and for the team. We knew it was going to be a tough race. We really believed in Chris and his ability to win this race. But it’s not to be this year.”
Brailsford added: “I’m sure he’ll be back. It’s part of this sport, sometimes you get knocked down. He was fit to start, he was in pain, there’s no denying it. But the injury he sustained today was on the other side.”
Froome is the second high-profile rider to quit this year’s Tour after fellow Briton Mark Cavendish suffered a high-speed crash in Saturday’s opening stage bunch sprint in Harrogate.
Cavendish, winner of 25 Tour stages, underwent shoulder surgery yesterday.
Organisers announced before the start that two of the nine cobbled sectors had been removed from stage five because of the bad weather conditions but crashes still littered the route. Triple stage winner Marcel Kittel of Germany and American Andrew Talansky also crashed although they both continued.
The stage was won with a bravura performance from Dutchman Lars Boom, who rode clear of the leading group on the last cobbled section for his first Tour stage win.
The Tour is now likely to turn into a duel between Italian Vincenzo Nibali, the yellow jersey holder, and former double champion Alberto Contador. The Spaniard finished the stage two minutes and 35 minutes seconds behind Nibali and lies 2:37 behind him in the overall standings but is expected to make up time when the race reaches the mountains.
Garmin-Sharp rider Talansky, who won the Dauphiné and recovered yesterday to finish ahead of Contador despite his crash, is another possible contender for glory in Paris.
Team Sky’s hopes now rest with Australian Richie Porte, who provided crucial support for Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and for Froome last year. Porte is currently eighth, 1:54 behind Nibali.
Brailsford said: “The fight in the mountain lies ahead. Richie is in great shape. He had a slower start to the season than usual but he’s fresh. The reason we decided to call him as our second leader was his climbing abilities. Today was a big challenge and he did ever so well.”
The day, however, belonged to former cyclo-cross rider Boom, who was outstanding on the same cobbles used for the Paris-Roubaix spring classic. He said: “For many years, I’ve dreamt of a wet Paris-Roubaix and I got what I wanted today at the Tour de France, exactly nine years after a Dutchman won a stage [Pieter Weening in Gerardmer], so it’s all very very special. This is my most beautiful win.”
He added: “This morning, when I saw the weather, I smiled a bit.”