The Kenyan-born Englishman is attempting to equal two historic cycling feats: to become the first rider since Italy’s Marco Pantani in 1998 to win the Tour and the Giro d’Itlaia in the same year and to equal the five Tour wins achieved by legends Miguel Indurain, Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, and Bernard Hinault. At the end of the first week, he laid in 8th place, 1 minute and 42 seconds (1:06) behind race leader Greg Van Avermaet of Belgium. Van Avermaet took the lead after stage 3, a team trial won by his BMC team by a scant 4 seconds over Froome’s Team Sky.
Froome crashed again during Sunday’s very eventful 9th stage, which took the riders over 15 treacherous sections of cobblestone on the 156.5 km from Arras Citadelle to Roubaix in northern France. In addition to Froome, dozens of other riders crashed on the narrow, cobbled stretches of the road. Last year’s Tour runner-up, Rigoberto Uran of Colombia, crashed heavily with about 30 km to go and ultimately lost 1 and minute 28 seconds to the other Tour championship contenders. France’s hope Romain Bardet suffered three tyre punctures during the stage and had to scramble to limit his losses to just 7 seconds.
The dramatic stage also saw the highly touted Australian Richie Porte taken away in an ambulance after he crashed early in the stage, before the cobbles arrived, and broke his collarbone. However, stage 9 was all good for German John Degenkolb, who won his first ever Tour de France stage by outsprinting Van Avermaet and another Belgian, Yves Lampaert, to the finish line.
“This is pure happiness,” said Degenkolb after the race. “I was chasing this victory for so long, I’ve been through a lot.” In 2016, the Trek-Segafredo rider was badly injured when he and his then-teammates were struck by a car during a training ride.
The first week of the Tour was marked by an unusually high number of crashes, with nine riders having been forced to drop out. Van Avermaet ended the week wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey, 43 seconds ahead of Froome’s teammate Geraint Thomas and Belgian Philippe Gilbert one second farther back, in third. But the standings will surely be scrambled when, after Monday’s rest day, the 167 riders remaining in the Tour will tackle the first of three difficult mountain stages in the Alps. Accomplished climbers with little chance for the overall title will want to go for a stage win, while the title contenders will try to steal time on their rivals and may save their best for the Pyrenees, beginning with stage 16, on July 24.