SAINT-AMAND-MONTROND, France (Reuters) - Chris Froome’s Team Sky were full of fighting talk despite the Tour de France leader taking a blow to the jaw, losing more than a minute of his advantage in Friday’s 13th stage.
Froome lost one minute nine seconds to Spain’s double champion Alberto Contador and Dutchman Bauke Mollema after a brilliant tactical move from the Saxo-Tinkoff team.
“We’ll see how it goes once the road goes uphill again and once we get to the time trial as we thought there are opportunities to gain time and there are opportunities to minimize time losses,” Sky’s team principal Dave Brailsford told reporters, putting on a brave face.
“We knew there were crosswinds out there, we were two guys down (after Vasil Kyryienka and Edvald Boasson Hagen abandoned).
“Our view was to try and limit the losses.”
Froome still leads second-placed Mollema by 2:28 with Contador in third, despite Team Sky being caught off guard on Friday.
The peloton divided into two after the Omega Pharma-Quick team created an echelon, riding in diagonal formation, to counter crosswinds and split the bunch after 56 kilometers.
With some 30 kilometers left in the 173-km stage, Contador’s Saxo-Tinkoff team mates sensed weakness and accelerated.
“Obviously Quick Step went and we were right on it and just as Saxo was going, I was stuck behind a few people and so was Froomey and (Ian) Stannard was stuck on the left,” Sky’s Geraint Thomas explained.
“(That) was enough for the gap to open. Once that happens it’s tough to close it,” the Welshman added.
Thomas was the first rider to talk to the media after a warm down session on a stationary bike, while sports director Nicolas Portal went straight into the team bus and stayed there for at least half an hour.
“It’s disappointing for sure. You don’t want to give away time but we had a quite decent advantage going into today so we lost a minute but have still got a healthy lead,” said Thomas.
Team Sky are likely to put the hammer down in Sunday’s stage ending at the top of the Mont Ventoux, a 20.8-km uphill drag that should suit Froome’s abilities.
The Briton has already showed his potential superiority as a climber in last Saturday’s first mountain-top finish.
“I still have an advantage of over two minutes and there is a difficult weekend coming up with the mountains,” Froome told a news conference.
Brailsford added: “Belkin emptied the tank today, Saxo emptied the tank today.”
This year’s Tour has been a spectacularly offensive race with Sky and rival teams trading blows at every opportunity.
“In many respects it’s fantastic for the race. The suspense is there,” said Brailsford.
“Whoever is going to win this race is going to deserve it.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Toby Davis