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
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.
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.
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