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Tension as 'Giant' lies before field

Under attack: Yellow jersey holder Chris Froome in the peloton: ''I'm just happy I still have an advantage of two minutes.''

Under attack: Yellow jersey holder Chris Froome in the peloton: ''I'm just happy I still have an advantage of two minutes.'' Photo: AFP

Predicting what may happen on Sunday when the Tour de France hits its hardest climb so far - the legendary Mont Ventoux, the ''Giant of Provence'' - will be anyone's guess in such an unpredictable race.

The Tour was turned on its head again in Friday's 13th stage - 173 kilometres from Tours to Saint Amand Montrond - where the Saxo-Tinkoff team pressed British race leader Chris Froome (Sky). Its late charge, pushed by Australian Michael Rogers, created a split and cast Froome adrift.

''I saw everyone was tired at roughly 30 kilometres to go and I just said to the boys, 'Let's go, let's try, we've got nothing to lose','' said Rogers. ''It worked well, we clawed back some time, so it is not finished.''

As BMC team president Jim Ochowicz noted presciently before the stage, which was won by Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep): ''You can't take the race for granted. Something strange happens every day in the race. It takes people out and someone will be eliminated today.''

That misfortune fell on Spaniard Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who dropped out of the overall reckoning, falling from second, just three minutes and 35 seconds behind Froome, to 16th (12:10 behind) after a puncture with 84 kilometres remaining.

A large part of the reason for Valverde's fate was the prevailing crosswinds that allowed teams to force a split in the peloton.

Omega Pharma-QuickStep had raced furiously from 110 kilometres out. With about 32 kilometres left, Alberto Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff team did the same, creating another split that resulted in Froome, Cadel Evans (BMC) and Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) losing time to Contador and Dutchman Bauke Mollema (Belkin).

There was a flicker of anxiety in Froome's face. ''I'm just happy I still have an advantage of two minutes,'' he said before admitting Sky really had been ''weakened'' by Edvald Boasson Hagen dropping out.

''It looked simple on paper but that wasn't the case. It was just another reminder that we have to be on our toes at all times,'' he said.

The stage may have been won by a sprinter, as forecast; but who could have predicted in these circumstances? So who knows what will happen in Sunday's 242.5-kilometre 15th stage from Givors to Mont Ventoux, when a climber should win.

Even then, danger lurked in Saturday's hilly 14th stage from Saint Pourcain sur Sioule to Lyon, before which Froome's overall lead was 2:28 over Mollema, and 2:45 over Contador.

Evans was 12th at 6:54 back and one place above Rogers, 13th at 7:28. The BMC leader was keeping an open mind about Mont Ventoux.

''We get to Ventoux without many climbs before, so maybe riders will get there fresher and we will see a big group start at the bottom. That could change the dynamics,'' Evans said.

''[Mont Ventoux] is either really good or really bad. I'm a bit rational about the climbs. If I am going good and climbing well I like the climb, if I am performing badly I don't enjoy it.''

With Telegraph, London

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