BAGNÈRES-DE-BIGORRE, France – It has become a familiar sight at the Tour de France: riders of Team Sky, clad in jet-black jerseys, tapping out a high cadence at the head of the peloton.
On Sunday, over five climbs in the Pyrenees, most of Sky’s members were nowhere to be seen among the leaders. Attacks from rival teams such as Movistar had disrupted the British squad, leaving its captain and Tour leader, Chris Froome, to fend for himself at the front.
Movistar, a Spanish squad, and its leader, Alejandro Valverde, tried furiously to shake Froome throughout Stage 9, won by Irishman Dan Martin of Garmin-Sharp. But Froome vigilantly marked the attacks to keep a stranglehold on the yellow jersey.
“It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had on the bike,” Froome said. “I’m happy with how I’ve come through today.”
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There were few changes to the top 10. Valverde is 1 minute 25 seconds back, though he took over second place from Froome’s Sky teammate, Richie Porte, who cracked on the day’s second climb and is nearly 20 minutes off the pace. Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff is in sixth place, 1:51 behind Froome.
Froome, a Kenya-born Briton, had wanted to follow up on his explosive ride to Ax-3-Domaines on Saturday, which brought him the Tour lead for the first time in his career and opened big-time gaps over his rivals.
But it was apparent early in the 104.7-mile stage that he would have to be content with simply managing his newfound status as leader.
With a small breakaway ahead for most of the stage, Froome rode solo amid a group of nearly 30 riders, including fellow contenders Contador, Cadel Evans and Andy Schleck.
“I was quite surprised they didn’t attack him more,” said Martin, the nephew of 1987 Tour winner Stephen Roche who outsprinted Denmark’s Jakob Fuglsang of Astana for the stage win.
“It was a massive opportunity for Saxo and Movistar to attack him, but they waited for the climbs to attack him, which is the worst possible time, really.”