For the first time in recent memory, Team Sky cracked.
Chris Froome had—until today—ridden a dream Tour de France, taking the yellow jersey on Stage 5 and enjoying the luxury of the peloton’s strongest team insulating him from most every attack. The formula was the same as it’s been for years now: Froome’s teammates push an untouchable tempo on climbs, which nullifies flyers from rivals and keeps their boy from having to do his own work until the business end of stages, when he can strike out on his own and gouge minutes from everyone else who had to protect themselves.
Not today. Stage 12 of the Tour finished with a pair of climbs in rapid succession, and through the first, it was business as usual. A Sky helper rode off the road and the peloton, so used to cowing to Froome, waited up for them to learn how to ride their bikes in a straight line again. All together again, Mikel Nieve and Mikel Landa forced rider after rider off the back of a dwindling group until the very end of the Category 2 climb in Peyragudes, when the chaos started.
The first rider to escape was George Bennett, who left with 800 grueling meters to the finish line. All this did was force Landa to raise his tempo (his fellow Mikel now gasping for air a ways back), which set up Fabio Aru for a devastating counter move. Suddenly, punchier riders like Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran Uran grabbed Aru’s wheel and Froome began to slip. For some reason, Landa followed instead of waiting with Froome, perhaps in an effort to maintain his top-10 place or steal away bonus seconds, and Froome’s younger rivals achieved a gap. For the first time in what feels like years, Froome was alone and unable to follow. Bardet took the stage and Aru wrested the yellow jersey away from the clutches of Sky, who’ve had it since the first day of racing. Froome lost 22 seconds and crossed the line looking destroyed. It was everything fans have wanted for years.
Aru has only six seconds on Froome, but his edge matters. This is the first time Chris Froome has lost the yellow jersey to a general classification contender in the mountains, and it’s also the latest he’s ever ceded it. Bardet and Uran are also within 30 seconds of him, and both riders looked stronger than Froome today, even with all of his support.
More importantly, the mental edge that Sky have held for five years doesn’t seem so large now that they have been shredded by a trio of daring riders. Rivals might feel more deputized to take shots at Froome over the back nine of this Tour, especially with a time trial looming on the penultimate day. They’ll need to, and if nothing else, the extremely tight GC race means that the final three mountain stages will be entertaining as hell.