Chris Froome said he felt like a kid again as he broke clear on a speedy descent to win the eighth stage of the Tour de France on Saturday and claim the yellow jersey.
The defending champion surprised everyone not only with an attack on a descent 16km from the finish of the 184km mountainous Pyrenean stage, but also with his technique on the descent.
He slipped off the saddle and onto the central bar of his bike, a normal aerodynamic position riders often adopt on descents.
But what had never been seen before was that Froome managed to pedal furiously in what appeared an uncomfortably cramped position.
“I train like that a lot. Even when I’m with team-mates training,” said Froome.
“We always mess around on the descent, it goes back to the love of cycling — to get that adrenaline, that rush.
“That paid off today.”
Sky team manager Dave Brailsford compared Froome’s position to that of Graeme Obree, a former British cyclist known as the ‘Flying Scotsman’ who twice broke the world hour record in the 1990s.
Although that was on the track, he too adopted a strange cramped position that gave him an aerodynamic boost before developing another, the ‘Superman’, when his first position was banned.
Froome said he didn’t have a name for his position, though.
“Call it what you want, I felt like a kid again out there, just trying to race my bike as fast as I could.”
The 31-year-old now leads compatriot Adam Yates and Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez by 16sec in the overall Tour standings ahead of the first summit finish this year in Andorra on Sunday.
Froome said his daring downhill attack had been a risk but something he’d come up with on the spur of the moment.
“I did actually spend quite a lot of energy there in the last 10km on my own.
“It’s a risk I thought I should take. I tried one or two times on the final climb but didn’t manage to distance anybody.
“I had the right gearing, I had a 54 chain so I thought I will try.”
– ‘Nut-case’ –
Froome’s team-mate Geraint Thomas said the move didn’t take him by surprise.
“He takes bigger risks than I do in training,” said the Briton.
“I’m not surprised. He’s a bit of a nutcase when it comes to that.”
Yates started and finished the day in second place, but behind two different yellow jersey wearers.
Greg Van Avermaet started the day with an almost six minute lead but finished the stage a shade under 26min after Froome.
Yates said he was simply relieved to get through the day having been knocked off his bike on Friday by a collapsing inflatable arch.
“I’m ok. I had pretty bad luck yesterday, a few stitches, cuts and bruises but I got lucky,” he said.
“Today was tough but I got through ok. I didn’t really know what was going on, I was just hanging on for grim death.”
Froome’s main rival Nairo Quintana came home in the 13-man group behind the stage winner.
He lost 13 seconds plus 10 more in time bonuses and now sits sixth overall at 23sec.
He played down the significance of that gap but blamed himself for not following Froome’s attack.
“I don’t think those seconds are that important and I hope the end of the race will prove that,” said the Colombian Movistar leader.
“In the last part it was me who didn’t pay attention.”
Quintana was sitting in Froome’s wheel when the Briton attacked but failed to react quickly enough to the move.
Two-time former winner Alberto Contador lost more time as he continued to struggle with injuries suffered in a first stage crash.
He said he may have to hand over Tinkoff team leader duties.
“We are going to talk with the rest of the team for the future because Roman Kreuziger is better placed than I am,” he said.
Czech Kreuziger is 12th at 34sec while Contador is 20th at 3:12. – Agence France-Presse