ONT-SAINT-MICHEL, France — Halfway through the Tour de France, Chris Froome appears unstoppable after extending the lead on his rivals in the time trial on Wednesday.
Although Froome missed out on his second stage win by 12 seconds to winner Tony Martin of Germany, the stage 11 performance felt like a big victory for the British rider because his challengers were at least two minutes slower.
“My biggest race (Wednesday) was with the other GC riders,” Froome said. “I’ve extended my lead so I’m very happy with that.”
Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde is still in second place overall but 3 minutes, 25 seconds behind Froome, while Alberto Contador improved to fourth but is 3:54 behind.
Meanwhile, the 2010 Tour champ Andy Schleck and 2011 winner Cadel Evans lost massive time.
“I’m happy with my shape,” Froome said. “I think I’ve shown in the mountains that I can hold my own and time trial, also.”
As the two-time world time trial champion, Martin did not disappoint over the 20.5-mile route in Normandy from Avranches to the breathtaking island citadel of Mont-Saint-Michel.
“Hats off to Tony Martin,” Froome said. “It just goes to show what class he has.”
Froome was quicker over the first two time splits but slowed down in the last section. Martin won in just over 36 minutes.
“I’m not sad at all with that,” said Froome, who also finished second behind countryman Bradley Wiggins on last year’s longer time trial. “I gave that time trial everything I had.”
He was the only rider to get within a minute of Martin, with Belgian Thomas De Gendt 1:01 behind in third.
Martin was lucky to be racing after he lost consciousness on his team bus after his crash in the opening stage. His left lung was bruised and layers of skin were shredded off his back.
“At night, I couldn’t sleep either on my left or right sides or on my back,” Martin said.
He was not the only one having sleepless nights.
His mother Bettina Martin said at the finish line of his first-day crash, “I was very shocked, very worried, and needed a long time before I was back to normal again.”
Still, nothing would deter Martin, who won the penultimate stage of the 2011 Tour, also a time trial, and finished second to Wiggins in the time trial at the London Olympics.
“The goal was always to continue the Tour de France because it’s a big honor,” Martin said. “When doctors said ‘OK,’ I kept the focus on today’s stage. I knew I would not be 100 percent for the team time trial (last week), but I had a good chance to recover for today.
“There are still some deeper wounds that are left to heal, but it’s not that painful anymore.”
Others had a more painful day.
Contador looked stern-faced and tense when he prepared to start. The Spaniard finished in 15th place, 2:15 behind Martin; Evans was 2:30 slower, and Schleck finished 4:44 behind Martin.
“No one’s won the Tour de France yet and no one’s lost it. We have to get to Paris yet,” Contador said. “Chris Froome is in impressive form and is a great climber, but there are still many stages left.”
Even though Evans is 6:54 behind Froome in 14th place, he has not given up.
“I think we will get a few chances,” the Australian said. “In the last four days (of the race) we will give everything.”
The team of Mark Cavendish, winner of the fifth stage, believes someone threw urine at the British rider along the route.
“To do something disrespectful like that is really sad and ruins the whole atmosphere,” Froome said.
The 12th stage Thursday is one of two consecutive flat days for sprinters, taking the riders on a 135.5-mile route from Fougeres to Tours in the Loire valley, a picturesque region of ancient chateaux and vineyards.
The climbers will face a medium mountain stage on Saturday and daunting ascent of Mont Ventoux on Sunday. It gives Froome another chance to crush his wilting rivals.