MONT-ST.-MICHEL, France — When he mounted an attack on the final climb of Stage 8 on Saturday, a move that gave him a commanding lead in the Tour de France, many of Chris Froome’s rivals were caught by surprise. It was too early in the three-week race, they thought, to take the yellow jersey.
By the start of the individual time trial Wednesday, however, overall contenders had been given plenty of notice that Froome was planning to try and pad his lead. But no rival, no headwind, not even a strike from workers on Mont-St.-Michel, where the 20.5 mile course concluded, could stop him. Hunched over his bike, his back almost parallel to the ground, the Team Sky captain ceded ground only to Tony Martin of Germany, the winner of Stage 11.
Martin was 12 seconds faster than Froome.
Alberto Contador of Saxo Bank-Tinkoff, the two-time Tour winner? Almost four minutes back in the overall standings. Cadel Evans of BMC Racing, the 2011 champion? Nearly seven minutes off the pace. What of Alejandro Valverde, the Movistar captain, his nearest rival at the beginning of the day? The Spaniard is still in second, but 3 minutes, 25 seconds behind.
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“I just wanted to go as fast as I could and then I would look at the results tonight,” Froome said.
In 1989, Greg LeMond won the Tour over Laurent Fignon of France by eight seconds, which remains the record for smallest margin of victory. In recent years, the average winning margin has been considerably greater than that, but the last time a rider won by more than two minutes was in 2009, when Contador beat Andy Schleck by 4:11.
Martin’s teammate, Mark Cavendish, was doused with urine during his ride, leading some in the peloton to speculate it was retribution for the sprinter’s actions Tuesday when he knocked Tom Veelers off his bike.