Chris Froome, winner of the 2013 Tour de France and odds-on favorite for overall victory in 2014, crashed twice on Stage 5 of the Tour and abandoned the race.
After falling at kilometer 35, the Briton remounted and regained contact with the peloton. Some 50 kilometers later, however, he hit the deck again and though he quickly got to his feet, he winced in pain. After a chat with a Team Sky doctor, he climbed into the team car and called it quits.
There’s no word yet on his injuries, but Froome started the day in a wrist brace resulting from another crash on Stage 4. Following his second crash today, the Brit clutched at that same wrist as if he had exacerbated the damage.
Froome fared the worst of the Tour favorites, but he wasn’t the only one who suffered. American Andrew Talansky took a tumble, and though Garmin-Sharp rode valiantly to put him back in the race, he lost 2:01 to race leader Vincenzo Nibali by the finish. Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and BMC’s Tejay Van Garderen also went down and both conceded 2:09.
And though he never crashed, two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador struggled in the wet weather and lost 2:32 to Nibali to finish the day in a dismal 19th on GC.
Ever since the route for Stage 5 was announced, there’s been no end to the debates and criticism of including sections of rough cobbles in the Tour. Many teams complained that the stage’s nine sections of pavé, totaling 15.4 kilometers, put the GC contenders at too much risk as the treacherous roads are infamous for causing mechanicals and injuries.
The consternation continued even this morning, when Tour officials made the last-minute decision to cut out two cobbled sections, deeming them too dangerous because of the day’s heavy rain.
Ironically, it wasn’t the cobbles that wreaked so much havoc in the race but the wet weather. Froome’s two crashes took place on smooth asphalt, well before the cobbles had begun. And Valverde and Van Garderen also went down on tarmac roundabouts. Talansky was the only favorite to crash in the pavé, when he overcooked a slippery corner and knocked over a spectator.
But maillot jaune Vincenzo Nibali and his Team Astana expunged any argument that the cobbles are too savage and hazardous for the featherweight top contenders. The Italian, who is about the size of Contador and Talansky but is known as an excellent bike handler, played a perfect tactical game and powered ably through the toughest sections to not only retain the race lead but put time into every one of his opponents. He finished in third place alongside teammate Jakob Fuglsang, just 19 seconds behind Dutch cobble-specialist Lars Boom, who is not a GC favorite.