The first serious mountain stage in any Tour de France is normally the day in which the pre-race favourites test each other with bursts of acceleration and counter-attacks during the final kilometres. During action often resembling a game of chess or poker as increases in pace are followed by deliberate slowdowns, one rider usually claims a slender lead while others may be hiding their true form. However, that scenario certainly did not apply for Tuesday’s stage in the Pyrenees, finishing at the ski resort of La Pierre-Saint-Martin. Chris Froome helped by his Team Sky colleagues dominated proceedings up the final climb to such an extent that there are suggestions that Kenyan born cyclist is already assured of 2015 Tour de France glory at just the half-way point.
With the 15km road to the finish being the only seriously categorised climb on the 167km route from Tarbes, Movistar set the early pace on the lower slopes towards La Pierre-Saint-Martin and such was the high tempo that 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali was unable to maintain contact.
As Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte gained control for Team Sky at the front of the remaining peleton, increasing numbers of riders were encountering difficulties and became dislodged from the leading group. With the relentless pace continuing, the sight of Alberto Contador being cast adrift was another surprise, but given the fact that his racing team-mate Ivan Basso had withdrawn from the Tour on Monday after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, there may have been emotional excuses for Contador producing a below par performance.
More riders were becoming detached when Porte and then Froome decided to accelerate with still over 6km to ride and this move was to prove decisive. Only Nairo Quintana was able to follow Froome, but the Colombian cyclist is more renowned as a steady climber on the more difficult gradients without being able produce rapid bursts of speed. Quintana was unable to close an increasing gap to the 2013 Tour de France winner and was gradually overhauled by Porte at the finishing line.
Froome won the stage by nearly a minute from Porte but the damage to the other main contenders had been considerable. His lead in the overall classification has now stretched to 2:52 from American Tejay van Garderen who finished two and a half minutes behind Froome on the day with Quintana now over three minutes adrift of the Team Sky rider.
For Nibali and Contador, their prospects for claiming victory in the overall classification now appear bleak and it needs a serious downturn in the form of the Team Sky riders to offer hope for any of the other contenders.
Yet on the evidence of the form produced by Chris Froome on Tuesday, there is every possibility of him extending his advantage over the coming days as both he and his team-mates actually appeared fairly comfortable on that final climb compared to the struggling peleton.