MONT VENTOUX (AFP) – Chris Froome kept hold of the Tour de France race leader s yellow jersey despite a crash with a motorcycle on Thursday that threatened to wreck his race hopes.
Froome initially seemed to have lost the race lead after his bicycle was broken by the crash leaving him at one point running desperately along the road waiting for a replacement bike.
But Tour organisers reinstated him in the lead at the end of the 12th stage which finished on the iconic Mont Ventoux, now with a 47sec lead over British compatriot Adam Yates.
“What a finish. Ventoux is full of surprises. Around the last kilometre a motorbike braked hard,” explained Froome on French TV after being presented with the yellow jersey.
“I was with Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema and all three of us went into the back of it. I got hit from behind by another motorbike that broke my bicycle.
“I m happy with the jury s decision. I think it s right. Thanks to them and thanks to the Tour de France organisation.”
Briton Froome was riding to the finish inside the final kilometre with Australian Porte and Mollema of the Netherlands having distanced the rest of the overall contenders when all three crashed into a motorcycle that was brought to a standstill by a wall of fans.
Froome tried to ride on but his bike was broken and he started running up the climb as he waited for his team car to catch up and give him a new bike.
First he was given a neutral bike by an official race car but he found it unrideable, ditching it before finally being given a team bike to finish the stage, which had started 178km away in Montpellier.
The incident initially seemed to have cost him terribly as Yates was provisionally announced as the new Tour leader with Froome, who had started the day with a 28sec lead over his countryman, trailing down in sixth place at 53sec.
Yates, who remains the leading young rider in the race, said he agreed with the race jury s decision to change the initial results.
“It is what it is, I m really happy with the outcome. I wouldn t have wanted to take the jersey like this,” said the 23-year-old.
“After his performances in the Tour so far he (Froome) is the rightful owner of the yellow jersey. It wouldn t have felt right to have taken it like that.”
The race jury decided to look into the incident and after a short time deliberating, it published an updated general classification with Froome back on top.
The jury opted to apply the 3km rule normally used in mass sprint finishes, which neutralises times in the run-in to the line in case of a crash or technical incident.
It means Froome and Porte were given the same time as Mollema, the first to get up and finish from their group.
It meant all three gained 19sec on the next batch of favourites, who were also held up by the crash as they rode into a bottleneck caused by blocked motorcycles and cars.
Froome therefore extended his lead with his main rival Nairo Quintana now third at 54sec, Mollema fourth at 56sec and young Frenchman Romain Bardet fifth at 1:15 ahead of Friday s 37km time-trial.
Froome s Sky team manager Dave Brailsford told French TV that the decision had rewarded those who were strongest on the day.
“The jury and organisers opted for fair play,” he said.
“It wasn t easy but you have to stay calm. Richie, Chris and Mollema were the strongest today and the organisers decided to maintain the lead they had gained at the moment of the accident. For me, it s a fair decision.”
Brailsford even afforded himself a joke, saying of Froome s brief jog towards the finish: “Maybe next year he ll run the Paris marathon!”
Almost lost in all the drama was the fact that Belgian Thomas De Gendt beat compatriot Serge Pauwels in a sprint finish to win the stage after both had been part of an initial 13-man breakaway.
Yet the over-riding image that will be repeated many times even long after this Tour finishes, was the sight of the yellow jersey running desperately up the Tour s most revered mountain as his race hopes seemed to be evaporating.