MONT-SAINT-MICHEL, France — Going down a row of television cameras, answering one question after another, the wearer of the Tour de France’s yellow jersey never veered off message.
Yes, said Chris Froome, he was delighted to have increased his race lead with a super-fast ride in the time trial. But, no, he added, the Tour isn’t over yet because the road to Paris is still long.
Froome is right about the long part – Paris is still 1,661 kilometers (1,032 miles) away. But if Froome really believes there is any doubt that he will be standing on top of the podium on the Champs-Elysees on July 21, then he is part of a quickly shrinking minority. After Wednesday’s time trial race against the clock to the medieval abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel , the Briton has a lead that now appears unassailable.
The field rode through picture-postcard villages of cottages built of dark granite.
Not that Froome noticed.
“During the race, you can’t really take any of that in at all,” he said. “You go into tunnel vision, and it’s just a blur of noise and color around you.”
But with each push on his pedals, Froome’s lead over his rivals grew.
By the end, with Mont-Saint-Michel rising majestically in front of him from an islet off the Brittany coast, Froome wasn’t far from catching Alejandro Valverde, even though the Spaniard set off three minutes earlier than him from Avranches.
Although Valverde is still Froome’s closest rival, it’s really no longer close. Froome’s lead over the Spaniard more than doubled to 3 minutes, 25 seconds. At the Tour, that might as well be light years. Froome would have to crash, suffer some other mishap or get sick for his rivals to catch him.
“Once we get into the Alps, there’s a run of a few days, back to back, which are going to be very hard,” he said. “I’m sure other teams are really going to test us.”
The winner of Stage 11 was time trial world champion Tony Martin. The German collapsed exhausted after crossing the line and lay face-up on the asphalt.
Martin’s white world champion’s jersey with rainbow stripes was so drenched with sweat that it turned translucent, revealing underneath scabs on his skin from a terrifying crash on Stage 1.
But because the Tour isn’t just any old race, Martin said he felt compelled to continue after doctors gave the OK to do so.
It also helped that he had conditioned himself before the race to expect a crash.
“I kept in mind before the Tour that I would crash one or two times in the first week. It’s more or less usual to crash. So if you are ready for it, I think with a lot of morale, I think you can survive this.”
The only ugliness on this otherwise spectacular stage was that a roadside spectator apparently sprayed urine at British rider Mark Cavendish as he was riding the course, said Patrick Lefevere, manager of his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.
Froome noted that one of the attractions of cycling is that spectators get close to the athletes. The Cavendish incident “ruins the whole atmosphere.”