Britain’s Chris Froome secured the Tour de France yellow jersey after a stunning stage eight win on the first day in the mountains as his rivals slumped on Saturday.
Sky team leader Froome launched a solo attack 5km from the race’s first summit finish at Ax-Trois-Domaines and crossed the finish line 51sec ahead of Australian teammate Richie Porte to underline his overall victory credentials. Spain’s former two-time winner Alberto Contador finished over a minute behind while the victory hopes of 2011 champion Cadel Evans all but faded on an epic eighth stage.
Froome, last year’s runner-up behind teammate Bradley Wiggins, now tops the general classification with a 51sec lead over Porte, with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in third at 1min 25sec. Contador (Saxo) is 1:51 off the pace while Australian Evans (BMC) is nearly five minutes adrift after finishing the stage 4:12 down on Froome.
After a first day of the race in the high mountains Froome, remarkably, now appears to have only one real rival for the race, which does not end until July 21, in Contador. Even he was surprised at how he and Sky performed in comparison to his rivals. “It’s difficult to understand. It’s the first real day for the general classification battle, but with a finish like that, we couldn’t have done any better,” said Froome. “I wasn’t expecting that much (in time gaps) today, but I can only thank my team for the opportunity today and for their hard work. “We’re in a really good position now, but we’re going to have our work cut out for us over the next two weeks for sure. “It’s a long way from being decided.”
Porte, the last rider in Sky’s impressive line-up to set the pace on the 7.8 km climb to the Pyrenean ski station, said the order to hit full gas came from Froome after the Kenyan-born rider had realised Contador was in trouble. “When Chris told me Alberto was no longer there, I just tried to give it everything I had,” said Porte, who had taken over the pace-setting duties from Britain’s Peter Kennaugh. “I’m finished (exhausted), but it was an absolutely incredible ride.”