Blazin' Saddles

Froome bonk could have made Tour much sweeter

Blazin' Saddles

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Arm in arm they came across the finish line in scenes that recalled the famous LeMond-Hinault one-two atop Alpe d'Huez back in 1986.

Unlike the La Vie Claire team-mates Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault, the Sky duo of Chris Froome and Richie Porte were not celebrating a comprehensive stage victory minutes over their rivals - but instead merely sixth and seventh place on an historic day in which a vulnerable Froome came through by nook or by crook - despite yet again extending his lead in the overall standings.

There's was an elated hug in celebration of getting through their toughest test so far in the 100th edition of the Tour - a Queen Stage of the race that took Froome right to his limit and once again underlined the primordial importance of Porte in securing what increasingly looks like a second successive Tour victory for Team Sky and British cycling.

While LeMond and Hinault famously never got on - a bit like Bradley Wiggins and Froome, really - Froomedog and his faithful terrier Porte are room-mates, best pals and inseparable dinning partners.

This was no more evident than in stage 18 with its double ascent of Alpe d'Huez.

Throughout the tough 172.5km Alpine hike, Froome threw stick after stick for Porte - and on every occasion the Australian bulldog fetched them, brought them back and dropped them at the yellow jersey's feet.

They rode together, they chatted together, they attacked together, they even ate together - although this last activity à deux got the pair into a spot of bother.

Before the now-infamous illegal re-fuelling incident - which Blazin' Saddles will come to very soon - there was a touching moment after Froome (following a little tête-à-tête with Porte) had put in one of his trademark in-the-saddle, high-cadence, leg-spinning attacks halfway through the final ascent.

Froome was clearly being driven by the old adage that the best form of defence is sometimes attack - and his blistering acceleration certainly did do for the chances of his big rival Alberto Contador, who was riding the last climb so sluggishly you'd have thought his bike was a few extra kilograms heavier or something...

But by distancing the likes of Contador, Nairo Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez, Froome had seemingly put the final nail in Porte's coffin too. When the white jersey Quintana then returned to Froome's wheel, the Briton's mojo almost visibly evaporated from his emaciated body.

You can imagine the smile on his face then when Porte suddenly appeared as if by magic alongside his master. Froome was so elated at seeing his friend that he actually reached out and hugged him while effectively still dodging bullets on the battlefield.

It was a good thing Porte was there, you see, because Froome was about to bonk big time.

Signalling his team car twice on a tight bend, Froome, overcome by a sudden attack of hypoglycaemia, slowed to a near standstill. The cameraman filming the incident presumed it was a mechanical issue and the picture zoomed into Froome's rear wheel, which looked to be fine.

The problem wasn't in the bike tyres, but what should have been flowing around Froome's own spare tyres (were he to actually have some body fat).

In search of sugar, Porte then vanished out of the picture, while Quintana and Rodriguez, bemused, laid it on thick and rode clear.

Pedalling squares for the first time since he grazed his knee in the neutral zone in Porto Vecchio almost three weeks ago, Froome was isolated and giddy - until Porte suddenly reappeared with a magic pick-me-up in the form of three energy gels procured from the Skymobile.

A highly illegal manoeuvre which cost both riders a 20 second penalty.

But then again, a 20-seconds slap on the wrist is a sweetener when faced with the prospect of a three-minute sucker punch to the stomach.

A bit like changing bikes in a time trial, this was a calculated risk. But unlike changing your bike in a time trial, this was clearly against the rules: no refuelling is allowed from team vehicles in the last 6km.

Froome would later brush off the incident by claiming that the Sky car had broken down earlier and neither he nor Porte were able to take on any food prior to the final ascent. Even if that was true, what he did was cheating - in the same way (sorry non-cricket fans) that Stuart Broad cheated the other day by not walking when he was caught behind off a clear edge.

If bonking only ever took 20 seconds to overcome, then riders wouldn't make such a big deal about what is one of their biggest fears - and the reason behind many last climb implosions.

But the truth is, Froome avoided the potentially disastrous consequences of a full-on bonk 4km from the finish by getting the necessary sugars he needed by flagrantly tearing up the rule book - and even worse, he didn't even break the rules directly himself, he got a team-mate to do it for him.

With Quintana and Rodriguez in the ascendency, this increasingly one-sided Tour would have certainly been jazzed up somewhat by a good bonk - but we were denied this pleasure by Porte's priceless handiwork.

Moments later, as the Tasmanian was handing Froome the illicit gels, a spectator's Japanese flag got caught on the Porte's handlebars, almost bringing him down. Now that would have been poetic justice...

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "At the end of the day a rule is a rule and if I'd been given 20 seconds I'll have to take that, but if you look at the technicality it was actually Richie Porte who fed from the car and not myself. I fed from Richie Porte so maybe that's something that needs to be taken in consideration."

Froome is really clutching at straws here. It's as if he'd asked Richie to steal someone's wallet and give him then money, then claimed not to be complicit in the crime once arrested for handling stolen goods.

The only way for Froome to have avoided a penalty would have been for Porte to have ingested the energy gels himself and then - like a bird feeding its young - coughed up the sweet contents and spat them directly into Froome's mouth.

Sounds gross, but given the amount of hugging they were doing on the final climb, such a manoeuvre could probably have been done rather inconspicuously.

GOOD OLD FASHIONED BIKE RACING: There must have been a point during the long downhill off the back of the Col de Sarenne when Moreno Moser thought to himself, 'did I miss the turn or something?'.

Having started the descent alongside Tejay van Garderen and Christophe Riblon, the Italian reached the bottom all alone. First, van Garderen's chain got jammed and the American had to solicit support from the neutral support car; then Riblon overcooked a bend and rode through a grass verge and into a ditch, where his shoes became submerged in the water running down a mountain stream.

On the earlier first ascent of Alpe d'Huez, both van Garderen and Riblon were force to thump running spectators who had strayed into their path. Meanwhile, the final climb witnessed a wonderful example of what seemed like a fait accompli suddenly having its borders blurred before the pendulum swung back into the favour of the plucky underdog.

Both van Garderen and Riblon had got over their previous travails to drop Moser on the climb, but it looked like the BMC youngster who was going to save his (and his team's) Tour with a win. Instead, it was Riblon who saved the home nation's Tour - just 24 hours after team-mate Jean-Christophe Peraud was forced out with that nasty double crash in the ITT.

Just as van Garderen started to fade, Riblon found a second wind, and now bolstered (but not bashed) by the crowd, his belief grew and grew. Once he caught his rival he didn't even hesitate before delivering the killer blow - simply powering past the faltering wreck to open up an unassailable lead.

The last time Riblon won a stage on the Tour, at Ax3 Domaines in 2011, he hadn't had time to savour the moment; two years on, he could milk the baying crowd to the max. Ending France's drought at the end of the Queen Stage of the 100th edition of the race - it doesn't get much better than this.

HOT: Lotto-Belisol's Adam Hansen, for taking and downing a glass of beer at Dutch corner en route to finishing a respectable 59th.

NOT: Adam Hansen, after the results of the anti-doping test come in next week...

STAGE 19: BOURG-D'OISANS - LE GRAND-BORNAND, 204.5KM

For many, this is the hardest stage of the Tour - more so that the headline-grabbing stages to Mont Ventoux and Alpe d'Huez. On paper, you lament the fact that the two hardest climbs - the Madeleine and the Glandon - come straight after the start, while the downhill run to Le Grand-Bornand seems to take the sting out of the tail. But imagine a scenario when some riders go for broke early on and try a Floyd Landis-style long pop - just without the whisky.

While this could be Saxo-Tinkoff, Movistar or free-falling Belkin's last throw of the dice, it could also be one for a plucky escapee. Wildcards Europcar, Cofidis and Sojasun are still winless, as are the big budget BMC. Italy and now France have eventually got on the score sheet - but we're still waiting for a Spanish stage winner. Up step Rodriguez or a resurgent Contador? The back of the Croix de Fry is one downhill where a timely attack could actually lead to something...

PLAT DU JOUR: Le Grand-Bornand is home to one of France's best-loved cheeses, Reblochon. This is a nice smelly one that's best eaten melted with potatoes and lardons.

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