Chris Froome comes under attack for the coveted yellow jersey.
Australia’s Michael Rogers was singled out for special praise on the Tour de France 13th stage Friday as he helped loosen Chris Froome’s grip on the yellow jersey.
Froome, who has been in the race lead since winning a dramatic eighth stage to the summit of Ax-Trois-Domaines in the Pyrenees, started the day with a 3min 54sec lead on key rival Alberto Contador.
By the end of what appeared to be an innocuous-looking 173 km ride over flat terrain from Tours to Saint-Amand-Montrond in the heart of France, former two-time champion Contador had closed his gap to 2:45.
Although the Spaniard was the man to benefit, Rogers was one of six Saxo team riders who, having used the crosswinds to their advantage, were instrumental in creating a gap which left Team Sky and Froome trailing in over 1:09 behind.
Nicolas Roche, the son of cycling legend Stephen, said Saxo’s turn of pace had been unplanned: “I asked Michael (Rogers), he asked Alberto and then he asked (Daniele) Bennati.
“It was a case of us nodding our heads at each other before saying, ‘Go Benna’ (Bennati). When Bennati went, there was no holding us back.”
“Bennati did the first attacking kilometre like a motorbike, and the group shattered,” said Contador.
Rogers’ contribution, as a former multiple champion of the world time trial title, was not lost on the boss of his former team, Dave Brailsford.
“Credit to Mick Rogers. He is a great guy and a great tactician and Saxo took their chance today when they saw it,” said Brailsford.
“Some days you have an advantage, some days you have your back to the wall and it’s a test of character. That is what this is all about.”
Despite Froome’s setback, his second following the collapse of Sky on stage nine when the Kenyan-born Briton was left isolated on stage nine in the Pyrenees, Brailsford was defiant.
“The race is finely balanced, but we’re still leading,” added Brailsford.
“Luckily, we’ve got enough of buffer to be able to limit our losses.”
With four days in the Alps and an individual time trial still to come before the race finishes in Paris on July 21, there is still plenty to fight for in spite of Froome’s apparently comfortable cushion.
However Sky were once again reminded that their quest to take the yellow jersey to London, a year after Bradley Wiggins — absent from this edition — triumphed in Paris, won’t come without a fight.
Having been subject to aggressive racing by an angry peloton on the second and final day in the Pyrenees last Sunday, Sky’s rivals chose different terrain to test their yellow jersey credentials.
The fierce crosswinds blowing across the plains of central France gave Saxo, just over 31 km from the finish, the chance to attack the main peloton with three riders from Omega-Pharma, two from Cannondale, two from Belkin and one from Astana.
Sky’s failure to respond was noted by Contador who in 2009 fell victim to a similar move on the way to La Grande Motte.
“It just shows that, on the Tour, things can happen every day,” said Contador, who won the race in 2007 and 2009 but was stripped of his 2010 title following a positive test for clenbuterol.
Britain’s Mark Cavendish, who had buried himself to make it into Contador’s group, beat Slovakian rival Peter Sagan to the line to claim the stage win — his second win of the 100th edition for Omega-Pharma and 25th of his career.
In the all-time list of most stage wins on the Tour, he is now level with French great Andre Leducq, who won the race in 1930 and 1932.
Only France’s Bernard Hinault with 28 and Belgian great Eddy Merckx with 34 remain ahead of the Manxman in that list.