Tour de France: Chris Froome takes yellow jersey amid crash chaos
There was near perfection for Team Sky amid the chaos of a colossal crash as Chris Froome took the Tour de France yellow jersey on Monday.
The 2013 champion stole further valuable seconds from his rivals for overall glory by finishing second to Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the 159.5-kilometres third stage from Antwerp to the vicious, 1.3km sharp ascent of the concluding Mur de Huy.
"The strategy for this stage today played out perfectly - well, apart from he could've won it," Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford said.
"He's a little bit frustrated he didn't go sooner, because he wanted to win it."
Froome leads Tony Martin (Etixx-QuickStep) by one second after receiving a six-second time bonus for placing second to Rodriguez.
He may not keep the maillot jaune for long, but Froome's advantage over his three big rivals for victory in Paris on July 26 is significant.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), defending champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) trail by 36secs, 1min 38secs and 1:56, respectively.
"I really didn't expect it to be that significant to get into yellow," Froome told Eurosport.
"Today was treacherous, lots of crashes again. I just couldn't be happier to be in yellow going into the cobbled stage tomorrow."
Froome's defence ended on stage five 12 months ago, before even reaching the cobbles which return on Tuesday's 223.5km route from Seraing to Cambrai.
Team Sky will have the lead support car in the race convoy, courtesy of Froome's position, but respect may be lacking if the 30-year-old suffers from misfortune, such as a mechanical, in northern France, according to Geraint Thomas.
"There's no respect, everyone just goes," Team Sky's Thomas said.
"If it's in the last 30k, I can't see anyone slowing down."
Brailsford added: "It's nice to get your nose in front, (but) it's a bit like scoring a goal in football and you're really vulnerable for the five minutes afterwards.
"I'd say we're pretty vulnerable now. That would be my message to this lot (Team Sky's riders)."
The day was marred by two high-speed crashes, the biggest of which taking out Fabian Cancellara (Trek), Froome's predecessor in the maillot jaune.
FDJ rider William Bonnet crossed wheels and tumbled over his handlebars and a domino effect followed, with numerous riders crashing to the Tarmac.
Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) and Dmitry Kozontchuk (Katusha) joined Frenchman Bonnet in abandoning the race.
Confusion followed as race director Christian Prudhomme first neutralised the race, then waved the riders on.
Next Prudhomme appeared through his sunroof once again to stop the race as the race medics were occupied treating the wounded.
Brailsford does not believe it has set a precedent.
He said: "It was a decision based on safety. I don't think for one second you can go down the road of 'well, what happens if there's a crash tomorrow?' It just doesn't stack up."
The pace was frenetic once the race resumed around 50km from the finish, with everyone jostling for position and Froome utilising his elbows to fend off rivals.
Froome was ideally placed at the foot of the Mur de Huy and made his move with 500m to go.
Contador and Rodriguez followed, before the latter surged and was shadowed by Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal).
Froome followed too, but not in time to overhaul Rodriguez, who celebrated victory, as the Briton enjoyed a second successive profitable day after exploiting splits in the bunch on Sunday.
Unaware he was required for the podium presentation and leader's duties, Froome returned to the Team Sky bus before learning of his British record 15th day in the record.
He had previously held the joint record of 14 days with 2012 winner Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Froome added: "I don't know how much you can read into what happened today, but it's great to be in the yellow jersey.
"Hopefully that will elevate morale in the whole team and help us stay together as a unit and stay safe on the cobbles tomorrow."
Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) recovered from crashing to place an impressive eighth on the stage, one place behind Nibali.
Cancellara, meanwhile, was among the riders to leave for hospital for assessment of his wounds.
Belfast Telegraph Digital