Tour de France week one review: Froome in familiar territory, Aru the arch-villain

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Chris Froome and his Tour de France rivals had a welcome day off on Monday to lick their wounds and prepare for the next two gruelling weeks.

Sunday was a brutal, bruising and costly day for the Tour as a whole as five riders crashed out — including Australian contender Richie Porte and Froome’s team-mate Geraint Thomas — and seven more failed to make the cut-off time.

In one day, the Tour lost 12 riders having seen just five leave the race over the previous eight days.

With the Tour already losing Mark Cavendish to injury and Peter Sagan to disqualification, Frenchman Arnaud Demare finished outside the cut-off time on Sunday and will take no further part.

Marcel Kittel has already won three stages and will be favourite to claim two more in the next two days, his German compatriot Andre Greipel, and Norwegians Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen perhaps the only two competitors who’ve shown any hope in previous sprints of beating him.

With 12 stages remaining, we take a look at the story so far.

Froome in familiar territory

Chris Froome has worn the maillot jaune for 35 of a possible 51 days of the Tour, dating back to 2015.

He donned the yellow jersey after Stage 5 and has steadily increased his advantage to 18 seconds. He’s been near-flawless up to now but the loss of Geraint Thomas as super domestique could leave him a little exposed.

Chris Froome.

Chris Froome.

Nairo playing catch-up… again

Nairo Quintana’s Tour debriefs over the years have tended to follow the same trend: stop leaving it too late.

The Colombian, though, is again in a position where he’s allowing Froome to gain time – 2:13 at present – on him and while he should claw some back in the mountains a week from now, it could be too little, too late.

Nairo Quintana.

Nairo Quintana.

Aru’s the arch-villain

Quintana and Alberto Contador may be struggling, while Richie Porte’s Tour is over, but Froome’s duel with Astana’s Fabio Aru is bubbling up nicely.

The Italian launched a cheeky attack on Sunday while Froome had mechanical issues and while both played it down as a misunderstanding, the tension will surely only rise.

Fabio Aru.

Fabio Aru.

Crash, bang, wallop

Porte’s crash was horrifying to see and robbed the Tour of one of their genuine GC contenders but came at the end of an opening phase of the Tour which also witnessed Thomas, Mark Cavendish, Alejandro Valverde and Ion Izagirre exit.

Stage 9 proved particularly brutal with 12 riders out of the race due to crashes and time cuts.

Richie Porte.

Richie Porte.

Contador fading fast

It’s sad to see such a giant of the Tour end this way but with each stage, the Spaniard’s powers are visibly slipping and he’s already 5:15 behind Froome.

Contador is stubborn, competitive and committed but it may not end up finishing this race, which increasingly looks like being his final Tour de France.

Alberto Contador.

Alberto Contador.

Sagan sent packing

Before all Sunday’s mayhem on the way to Chambery, this was the story of the race so far as

world champion Sagan was sensational disqualified after Stage 4 for elbowing Mark Cavendish during as they sprinted to the line.

It was a big call by the UCI to kick the Slovakian out as he remains cycling’s biggest superstar.

Peter Sagan.

Peter Sagan.

Kittel inherits role of sprint king

Sagan’s departure has thrust other sprinters into the limelight, in particular Quick Step’s Marcel Kittel and FDJ’s Arnaud Demare. German Kittel has claimed two stages and Demare one with the Frenchman also runner-up the two occasions his rival won.

Demare’s Tour is over after he missed the time cut on Stage 9 but with Michael Matthews, Alexander Kristoff and Andre Griepel in good nick, the race for the Green Jersey is wide open.

Marcel Kittel.

Marcel Kittel.

Yates is alright in white

A year on from twin brother Adam claiming the White Jersey as the best young rider of the tour, Simon Yates is following suit having led the Under-26 classification since Stage 5, while also sitting seventh overall.

UAE Team Emirates’ Louis Meintjes is his biggest threat but the South African is a full 2:58 behind and needs a big middle section of the race to keep the heat on the Brit.

Simon Yates.

Simon Yates.

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Uran wins ninth stage of Tour de France but Porte and Thomas crash out

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Rigoberto Uran won a chaotic, crash-strewn stage nine of the Tour de France which saw Geraint Thomas and Richie Porte abandon the race while Chris Froome came home third to retain the yellow jersey.

Cannondale-Drapac’s Uran took victory in a photo finish ahead of Warren Barguil of Team Sunweb – one final twist of drama on a day that will live long in Tour history.

Team Sky’s Thomas suffered a suspected broken collarbone in a crash on the damp descent of the Col de la Biche, while BMC’s Porte went down in a frightening incident on the descent of the Mont du Chat – the last of seven categorised climbs on a brutal stage.

It all came down to a rare sprint finish between general classification contenders, with AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet fourth and Fabio Aru of Astana fifth.

With four bonus seconds on the line for third place, Froome extended his lead over Aru to 18 seconds. However, he has lost his rear-gunner as Thomas started the day second overall.

Bardet is up to third overall, 51 seconds down, four seconds ahead of former Team-Sky man Uran who catapulted up the standings with the win.

Irishman Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) was caught in the crash that ended Porte’s race and then came down again later in the descent, losing fourth place as he slipped to sixth, one minute and 44 seconds down, 18 seconds ahead of seventh-place Simon Yates of Orica-Scott.

The crashes were not the only cause of drama.

Froome suffered a mechanical problem on the Mont du Chat, the last of three hors categorie climbs on the day, and as the three-time Tour winner was calling for the team car Aru attacked in a clear breach of cycling’s protocol.

The other general classification contenders followed the Italian, but seemingly in order to remonstrate with him and tell him to wait.

Froome soon caught back up after a bike change but made his feelings known to Aru as he gave the Astana man a nudge after a corner.

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Marcel Kittel wins photo finish Tour de France seventh stage

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Marcel Kittel.

Marcel Kittel pipped Edvald Boasson Hagen by the tiniest of margins in a photo finish to the seventh stage of Tour de France on Friday.

To the naked eye, and even television pictures, it seemed impossible to separate the pair as they crossed the line in Nuits Saint-Georges.

But after a nervous wait and several inclusive views of the finish line battle, Quick-Step’s Kittel was awarded his third stage win of the year and 12th in total, matching the record for a German held by Erik Zabel.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for Norwegian Boasson Hagen who looked all set for victory until a late charge by the irrepressible Kittel, already winner of the second and sixth stages, although far more convincingly.

Australian Michael Matthews finished third as reigning champion Chris Froome maintained his overall lead at the end of the 213.5km stage from Troyes on another day of minimal drama, until the controversial finish.

For the overall contenders it was another day to simply stay out of trouble before the weekend’s back-to-back mountain stages when the yellow jersey battle will return to centre stage.

In the meantime, the top sprinters will have two days to lick their wounds and try to conjure up a way to stop Kittel.

Louis Meintjes of UAE Team Emirates finished 52nd and is 13th overall in the general classifications after stage seven.

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