Crash leaves Froome off the pace

Sky rider crashes on re­con­nais­sance ride be­fore fin­ish­ing 21st in time trial De­fend­ing cham­pion Du­moulin claims over­all lead in Jerusalem

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SPORTS - MARTHA KELNER

Since ar­riv­ing in Is­rael Chris Froome has made a de­cent ef­fort of con­ceal­ing the men­tal bruis­ing of an on­go­ing bat­tle to res­cue his rep­u­ta­tion but there was no dis­guis­ing the im­pact made by the tar­mac of Jerusalem after he fell from his bike be­fore the Giro d’Italia had even be­gun.

Wear­ing plas­ters after fall­ing dur­ing a re­con­nais­sance ride four hours ear­lier, Froome laboured through the first stage of this race, a tech­ni­cal 9.7km time trial through the streets of this his­tor­i­cal city but ad­mit­ted it had been a painful ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s not ideal to race just after crash­ing but that’s bike rac­ing, it’s all part of the sport,” he said. The clock told a fuller story, his 21st place fin­ish putting him not only 37 sec­onds adrift of leader Tom Du­moulin but also be­hind com­pa­tri­ots Alex Dowsett and Si­mon Yates, a re­sult few could have fore­seen at the start of the day.

The gap is not unas­sail­able over the next three weeks, as the four-times Tour de France win­ner pointed out, but it was an early blow in his bid to win a third suc­ces­sive Grand Tour. Only two men have man­aged such a feat be­fore, the last be­ing Bernard Hin­ault in 1983.

Froome’s start to the sea­son has been un­spec­tac­u­lar by his own stan­dards, with low-key re­sults in his pre­vi­ous three out­ings. But he seemed con­fi­dent ahead of the Grande Partenza, the first time the start of the Giro has been held out­side Europe.

Audible smash

It was 2km into a re­con­nais­sance ride on Fri­day morn­ing that the 32-year-old was thrown from his bike round­ing the sec­ond cor­ner of the course, in a built up area of the city. There was an audible smash as he hit the ground, skid­ding across the road fast enough to cre­ate a rip in his rac­ing jersey and shorts. Lift­ing him­self to his feet, Froome hob­bled back to col­lect his bike, cy­cling back to the Team Sky minibus. He was in­spected by medics and after be­ing cleaned up was cleared to take the start.

“It’s all su­per­fi­cial, no long-term dam­age,” Froome said. “I’m just grate­ful it wasn’t se­ri­ous, a few guys went down and some were pretty badly in­jured so I’m glad it wasn’t more se­ri­ous.”

Car­nage reigned supreme on the open­ing day as an­other three riders also fell dur­ing their re­con­nais­sance rides. The Bahrain-Merida rider Kanstantin Si­ut­sou, who used to be one of Froome’s trusted lieu­tenants at Team Sky and was one of the over­all favourites, was forced to with­draw after break­ing a bone in his back. Miguel López of As­tana, an­other ex­pected to be in the mix, also crashed.

It was 30 de­grees by the time Froome rolled down the start ramp with the white stone of Jaffa Gate, one of the en­trances to Jerusalem’s Old City pro­vid­ing a spec­tac­u­lar back­drop. Kenyan-born Froome rel­ishes the heat but he strug­gled in the first half of the course par­tic­u­larly. Around the sec­ond half of the route he gained some ground but not enough to sig­nif­i­cantly lift the tone of an­other mis­er­able day for Team Sky.

As he warmed down with team leader Dave Brails­ford keep­ing a low pro­file in the back­ground, Froome drew loud cheers and re­quests for au­to­graphs from spec­ta­tors. He re­mains pop­u­lar with fans here de­spite hav­ing failed a drug test last year, a urine sam­ple show­ing twice the per­mit­ted level of the asthma drug salbu­ta­mol in his sys­tem, a find­ing he is ap­peal­ing.

Pink jersey

Froome is be­ing paid a seven-fig­ure sum to com­pete in the Giro d’Italia which will move to its home coun­try next week but the race di­rec­tor, Mauro Vegni, in­ti­mated ear­lier in the week that the charis­matic Dutch­man Du­moulin might be a more pop­u­lar over­all win­ner.

The Team Sun­web rider, a world cham­pion time tri­al­ist, put him­self in the pink jersey by win­ning the stage in 12 min­utes and two sec­onds, beat­ing Ro­han Den­nis of BMC Rac­ing by two sec­onds. Lotto Soudal rider Vic­tor Cam­p­e­naerts fin­ished third on the stage, los­ing out to Den­nis by a few hun­dredths of a sec­ond.

Du­moulin is de­fend­ing the ti­tle here and re­jected the sug­ges­tion the time trial was a dan­ger­ous course. “The course was per­fect for me, very tech­ni­cal,

Ire­land’s Ryan Mullen com­petes in the first stage of the Giro d’Italia in Jerusalem. He fin­ished in 62nd place, some 57 sec­onds be­hind leader Tom Du­moulin.

and I’m good on cor­ners on the TT bike,” he said, “It was full gas, re­cover, full gas, re­cover, so it was per­fect for me.”

Asked if he was now favourite for the gen­eral clas­si­fi­ca­tion vic­tory, given Froome’s tra­vails, Du­moulin replied: “It’s the usual GC cliche – take it day by day but, like the badass I am, I’m go­ing to take it hour by hour.”

Ryan Mullen fared best of the Ir­ish riders on the open­ing day, fin­ish­ing in 62nd place some 57 sec­onds down on Du­moulin while Ni­co­las Roche was 1:14 off the pace. Sam Ben­nett, re­turn­ing to the Ital­ian race after a strong de­but last year, was a fur­ther five sec­onds be­hind Roche – Guardian

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