Chris Froome strengthened his grip on the yellow jersey in the most bizarre circumstances after stage 12 of the Tour de France ended in chaos on the slopes of Mont Ventoux.
Froome was reduced to running up the mountain on foot after his bike was broken when he, Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema collided with a television motorbike on the crowded road a little over a kilometre before the finish line on a stage which was won from the breakaway by Lotto-Soudal’s Thomas De Gendt.
He ran as fast as his cycling shoes would carry him before taking a bike from the neutral service car, but struggled to gain traction on the ill-fitting machine and had to swap it again when his team car finally made it through.
Froome lost around a minute and a half on the road and slipped to sixth on the provisional general classification, 53 seconds behind fellow Briton Adam Yates, before the race jury intervened. They ruled that Porte and Froome should receive the same time as Mollema after the Dutchman got back on his bike and stayed clear of the chasing rivals.
“Ventoux is full of surprises,” said Froome. “With about 1.2km to go, the motorbike slammed on its brakes – the road was blocked in front – the three of us just ran into the motorbike and another motorbike ploughed into me, breaking my frame. I just started running. I knew the car was stuck and was five minutes behind. I think it was a fair decision, and I want to thank the jury and the organisation. It was the right decision.”
The crash happened within metres of the spot where Froome attacked on his way to victory on Mont Ventoux during the 2013 Tour.
Froome now leads by 47 seconds from Yates, with Mollema third at 56 seconds behind and Nairo Quintana fourth, one minute and one second back. Etixx-QuickStep’s Irishman Dan Martin, who started the day third, struggled on the climb and dropped to ninth, one minute and 56 seconds back. The 23-year-old Yates was in line for yellow before the race jury’s decision, but endorsed the ruling.
“I don’t want to take the jersey like that,” the Orica-BikeExchange rider said. “I’d rather take it with my legs and not a crash in a bad situation.”
Froome began the day 28 seconds clear of Yates and was looking to extend that advantage when he attacked alongside former team-mate Porte, now of BMC. The pair were joined by Trek-Segafredo’s Mollema and were comfortably ahead of a group including Yates and Movistar’s Quintana before calamity struck and there was the bizarre sight of the yellow jersey running up a mountain. “Perhaps next year Chris will do the Paris Marathon,” said Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford.
A stage designed to be the Bastille Day highlight of the Tour had already been hampered by the weather, with the decision made on Wednesday evening not to go to the famous summit of Mont Ventoux due to gale-force winds. That may well have contributed to the incident as the large crowds were compacted into a smaller section of the mountain, and there were fewer roadside barriers in the final kilometres of the stage than is normal.
De Gendt said he had been surprised when he took victory as he had not even realised he was at the finish.
“I didn’t really know it was the last kilometre,” the Belgian said. “Normally the barriers start at two kilometres and now I came to a surprise because I was at the 200m sign already.”