Sky’s Thomas, Froome show dom­i­nance

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By An­drew Dampf

DUESSELDORF, GER­MANY » One stage into the Tour de France was all it took for Chris Froome and his Team Sky to an­swer all the pre-race talk about how they are not as dom­i­nant this year.

Geraint Thomas, Froome’s most loyal sup­port rider in his three Tour vic­to­ries, won the wet and slip­pery open­ing stage and claimed the yel­low jersey.

Av­er­ag­ing 52 kph (32 mph), Thomas re­quired lit­tle more than 16 min­utes over the al­most en­tirely flat 14-kilo­me­ter (8.7-mile) in­di­vid­ual time trial up and down the banks of the Rhine River in down­town Duesseldorf.

Ste­fan Kueng of BMC fin­ished sec­ond, five sec­onds be­hind, and Vasil Kiryienka of Sky was third, seven sec­onds back.

Froome was sixth, 12 sec­onds be­hind, and gained time on all of his ex­pected chal­lengers. He gained 35 and 36 sec­onds on Richie Porte and Nairo Quintana, re­spec­tively.

Romain Bardet, the French­man who fin­ished sec­ond over­all be­hind Froome last year, and seven-time Grand Tour cham­pion Alberto Contador lost even more time.

It was a ban­ner day for Sky, which placed four rid­ers in the top eight with Michal Kwiatkowski in eighth.

Mean­while, there were nu­mer­ous crashes. Two in­volved key sup­port rid­ers for the over­all fa­vorites; Ale­jan­dro Valverde, who as­sists Quintana at Mo­vis­tar, and Ni­co­las Roche, who aides Porte with BMC.

Valverde slammed into the bar­ri­ers at high speed after fall­ing off his bike and was forced to aban­don the race in a neck brace with a sus­pected bro­ken left kneecap. Roche lost con­trol while travers­ing tram tracks.

Sky had no such prob­lems, which was a wel­come change after a dif­fi­cult start to the year for cy­cling’s pow­er­house team.

Thomas aimed for over­all vic­tory in the Giro d’Italia but was forced to aban­don that race be­cause of in­juries in a crash caused by a po­lice mo­tor­bike. Froome en­tered the Tour with­out hav­ing won a sin­gle warmup race — or even a stage — for the first time since he be­gan dom­i­nat­ing four years ago.

With nei­ther a long time trial nor many moun­tain-top fin­ishes, many ob­servers sug­gested this Tour doesn’t suit Froome’s strengths.

“It’s still about Froomey,” Thomas said. “It’s ob­vi­ously a big boost of morale but the goal is still Froomey. But if I end up stay­ing up there on GC that would be great.”

Thomas be­gan his career as a track cy­clist, win­ning Olympic and world ti­tles in team pur­suit. But he watched the Tour as a kid and ha­rangued his dad to get satel­lite TV cov­er­age.

“I got into cy­cling be­cause of the Tour. I ran home from school to watch it,” Thomas said. “To be on the other side of the cam­era, putting on the jersey and shak­ing hands with VIPs and stuff is the stuff of dreams.”

De­spite the rain, fans un­der um­brel­las turned out in large num­bers along the en­tire route as the Tour started in Ger­many for the first time in 30 years.

Stage 2 on Sun­day is a mostly flat 203.5-kilo­me­ter (126mile) leg from Duesseldorf to Liege, Bel­gium, that should set up well for sprint­ers.

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