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Froome defies crash to maintain lead

Associated Press Associated Press 22/07/2016 By Samuel Petrequin

Rain and crashes played havoc at the Tour de France on Friday as Chris Froome hit the ground and Romain Bardet posted the first French victory at this year's race.

Froome quickly borrowed a teammate's bike and kept his now torn yellow jersey after crossing the finish line 36 seconds behind Bardet, who climbed to second place overall.

Froome holds a lead of 4 minutes, 11 seconds over Bardet, with two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana of Colombia moving up to third, 4:27 back.

Australia's Richie Porte moved up to fifth in the overall general classification but was left thinking what might have been after he was forced off his bike with 28km to go so the BMC team mechanics could work on a problem.

Thanks to some stellar work by his teammates, Porte managed to finish in 10th spot, one place behind Froome after rejoining the peloton, but remains more than five minutes behind his former Team Sky colleague, who looks well set for a third Tour victory on Sunday.

Bardet attacked on a descent moments before Froome slipped on road paint as he crossed a white line and hit the ground just 13.5 km from the finish. The two-time champion was able to continue racing after swapping bikes with Geraint Thomas.

"I think that I hit one of the white lines on the road and lost my front wheel," Froome said at the finish, his right knee heavily bandaged.

"I'm okay, I'm lucky that nothing is seriously injured. A crash like that could have gone either way and I'm grateful that nothing is injured. You never have a quiet day at the Tour."

Froome was descending at a relatively cautious speed of almost 45 kph when he fell. With his jersey torn, blood dripping down his right leg, cuts and bruises on his back and blood on his right elbow, Froome understandably looked uncomfortable on Thomas' bike.

Despite the circumstances, Froome caught up with the group of favourites in the brutal final climb to Le Bettex with the help of teammate Wouter Poels.

Froome crossed the line grimacing in pain, then put his arm around Poels to thank him for the support.

"I just lost a bit of skin but today is a day when I'm grateful for that four minute-advantage to fall back on a bit," Froome said.

"It was great for me to have teammates all the way up until the finish there, with Wout in particular and all the guys. It was a great team effort and it feels great to be one day closer to Paris."

The 146km ride featured four ascents in the Alps and was marred by several crashes on roads made slippery by rain. Second-placed Bauke Mollema also crashed at a roundabout and got dropped, as his hopes of finishing on the podium in Paris disappeared.

"Right now I'm on a cloud," Bardet said after posting his second Tour stage win. "I rode with my instinct. I'm second overall, I won the stage, it's is beautiful."

Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez finished the stage in second place, in the same time as Alejandro Valverde, 23 seconds back.

Orica Bike-Exchange's Adam Yates dropped from third to fourth, nine seconds behind Quintana, and Mollema fell all the way to 10th.

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