SAINT-GERVAIS-LES-BAINS, France (Reuters) - Chris Froome hit the deck but retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey in the Tour de France on the 19th stage, a crash-marred 146-km mountain trek won by Frenchman Romain Bardet in vintage style on Friday.
The Briton fell about 13.5km from the finish on a slippery descent and ended the stage on a team mate’s bike with cuts and bruises on his back and right elbow.
Shortly after the 25-year-old Bardet then lit up the race with an attack on the tricky descent towards the foot of the final ascent to Le Bettex, Froome crashed on a right-hand bend.
He was quickly back on Geraint Thomas’s bike and held firm in the favorites’ group.
AG2r-La Mondiale rider Bardet, who gave France their first win on this Tour, quickly caught early attacker Rui Costa in the climb, a 9.8km effort at an average gradient of eight percent and went solo with 3.5km left.
Froome, who crossed the line 36 seconds behind Bardet, now leads the Frenchman, who moved up from fifth to second overall, by 4:11 minutes.
Dutchman Bauke Mollema, who started the day in second place overall, also crashed and eventually lost a massive 4:25.
Colombian Nairo Quintana, runner-up in 2013 and 2015, is now third overall, 4:27 off the pace with one competitive stage left on Saturday, a 146.5-km mountain ride from Megeve to Morzine.
“I‘m on cloud nine. That’s instinctive bike racing. There was no plan. I rode up the climb as fast as I could,” said Bardet, whose move forced his rivals to take risks in the descent.
With the help of team mate Mikael Cherel, Bardet led the other big guns by 25 seconds at the foot of the last climb.
“Mika told me we should try something in the descent from Domancy and we just went. Bike racing is a whole. You need to climb with the best but also to descend well,” said Bardet, one of the best in the world when it comes to downhill racing.
Seeing that Froome, who wore a bandage on his right knee on the podium after the stage, was struggling, several rivals attacked but the Briton gritted his teeth and limited the damage, losing only 10 seconds or less on Italian Fabio Aru and Quintana.
Australian Richie Porte, Froome’s former lieutenant at Team Sky who now rides for BMC, also attacked several times but on each occasion sat up as if waiting for his ex boss.
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, one of the favorites for the Olympic time trial in Rio next month, also crashed with about 62km left before pulling out with a “severe wrist trauma”, according to a race doctor.
Pole Rafal Majka virtually secured the polka dot jersey for the mountain classification when he was first at the top of the Montee de Bisanne, a 12.4km climb averaging 8.2 per cent.
Frenchman Pierre Rolland and Swiss Sebastien Reichenbach were also among those who crashed on slippery roads.
Editing by Ed Osmond