Froome nearly derailed when bike breaks down
Overall race leader overcomes broken wheel in Stage 15
LE PUY-EN-VELAY, FRANCE» Great Britain’s Chris Froome fought back from a bike breakdown to cling to his race leader’s yellow jersey on the tricky Stage 15 of the Tour de France, won Sunday with a courageous solo breakaway by Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands.
The back wheel of three-time Tour champion Froome broke at the worst possible time, just as the AG2R team of close rival Romain Bardet was picking up the pace ahead of the last big climb of the day. That was a 5-mile slog up the steep Col de Peyra Taillade — scaled for the very first time by the Tour.
By the time Froome had stopped, taken a wheel off teammate Michal Kwiatkowski and got going again, Bardet’s group was already way ahead — about one minute ahead of him down the road.
Aside from Bardet, other top riders were also in that group, including Fabio Aru and Rigoberto Uran — all within 30 seconds of Froome in the overall standings. Earlier at the Tour, Froome’s rivals had waited for the race leader to catch back up to them when he suffered another mechanical problem, that one with his gears. But there was no such politeness this time.
Froome had two choices: Catch them or lose the overall race lead and the famed yellow jersey that goes with it.
“Panic stations,” he said. “I really thought that could be the yellow jersey changing shoulders again today.”
He hared after them. Helped first by teammates Mikel Nieve and then by Mikel Landa, Froome worked furiously on the climb to reel in Bardet’s group — past cheering crowds with some people who booed as he labored past them.
“They all emptied themselves to get me back into the race,” Froome said of his teammates. “I had to get back by the top of the climb. Otherwise it was game over for me. It was a stressful moment. I thought I might not get back to the front.”
Froome said the back-wheel problem seemed to be a broken spoke. “The wheel wasn’t straight anymore,” he said. By recovering from the misfortune, Froome now takes the yellow jersey and an 18second lead over Aru into Monday’s rest day, the last of two at the 104th Tour, ahead of a crucial last week of racing in the Alps and with a time trial in Marseille.
Irish rider Dan Martin moved up from sixth to fifth overall by powering ahead of the leaders’ group in the final stretch. Now just 1:12 behind Froome — having started the day 1:26 back — Martin can expect to be watched even more closely by Froome from now on.
“It’s going to be every second at this point,” Froome said, “every second all the way into Paris.”