Froome quits as Boom triumphs
A dejected Chris Froome saw his Tour de France title defence ended by a third crash in two days on Wednesday's fifth stage with his own personal hell coming even before he hit the cobbles used in 'The Hell of the North'.
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Froome's Tour ended not in Paris on July 27, but with a premature departure home battered and bruised following an eventful two days in northern France.
After the second of two crashes on the route from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hinaut, Froome withdrew to his support car, with Richie Porte inheriting the leadership of Team Sky.
"Devastated to have to withdraw from this years TDF," Froome wrote on Twitter.
"Injured wrist and tough conditions made controlling my bike near to impossible.
"Thanks to the team & support staff for trying to get me through today. Wishing @richie_porte & @TeamSky the best for the rest of Tour!"
It has been reported Froome began the stage with a fractured left wrist, suffered when the 29-year-old Briton tumbled to the tarmac on Tuesday's fourth stage, the first on French soil following three UK stages.
He will now undergo scans to determine the full extent of his injuries and could alter his season's focus to the Vuelta a Espana, which begins in Jerez on August 23.
The Tour's fifth stage commemorated 100 years since the start of World War One and features many of the cobbles used in the Paris-Roubaix one-day race 'The Hell of the North'.
Torrential rain and wet roads only served to make the fifth stage even more challenging.
Race organisers removed two of the nine cobbled sections, but Froome's falls came prior even to the first section of cobbles he had been dreading since the route was announced last autumn.
The sad sight of Froome, dominant in winning the 2013 Tour, grimacing by the roadside was reminiscent of Sir Bradley Wiggins' withdrawal with a broken collarbone in the first week of the 2011 Tour.
Wiggins won the following year, missed the 2013 race through injury and was not selected by Team Sky in 2014.
Froome crashed early on the route before a second crash with around 70-kilometres remaining saw him end his defence.
He consulted Team Sky doctor Alan Farrell and sports director Nicolas Portal before taking his place in the back of the Team Sky car.
Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford said on ITV4: "He couldn't have had a worse moment to hurt your wrist, the day before the cobbled stage."
Brailsford added on teamsky.com: "This is incredibly sad for Chris and for the team.
"His bravery was incredible but the crashes just took their toll and he had no choice but to abandon.
"It's not to be for Chris this year but that's sport and he'll be back.
"He'll head home tonight and we'll make sure he's looked after on the way back to full fitness."
Despite the atrocious conditions, which made for an epic day's racing won by Lars Boom (Belkin), Froome was the only withdrawal as the peloton fell to 193 riders.
Just two of those left are Britons - Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) and Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) - after Froome joined Mark Cavendish (shoulder) in exiting the Tour.
Thomas played a key role in supporting Porte, who finished 20th, two minutes 11 seconds behind Boom to move up to eighth overall, 1min 54secs behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who retained the yellow jersey with a third-placed finish.
Brailsford expressed his confidence in Porte, who had been slated to lead Team Sky at May's Giro d'Italia before withdrawing from contention due to illness.
"One man's misfortune is another man's opportunity," Brailsford said.
"This is Richie's opportunity now, he steps up and he has the full support of the team.
"He's come into form at the right time and given the way he is climbing we've got an exciting two and a half weeks ahead of us."
It is the first time since Bernard Hinault in 1980 that a defending champion has exited the Tour prematurely.
Froome's absence means the Tour's wait for a first back-to-back winner since the disgraced Lance Armstrong won seven titles, since removed, between 1999 and 2005 goes on.
Thomas told ITV4: "He (Froome) was just behind me when he crashed. It wasn't good, but we knew going into today that we had Richie as well.
"It was kind of a two-pronged attack. It changed then, all for Richie.
"Losing Froomey is not good, but Richie is in some good form."
Froome's supremacy in the mountains earned him the 100th Tour title in 2013, but a duel with two-time winner Alberto Contador will now have to wait until 2015, at least.
Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) endured a challenging day, finishing 37th, 2:54 behind, to fall to 19th overall, 2:37 adrift ahead of Thursday's 194km sixth stage through Champagne country, from Arras to Reims.
The Spaniard added on Twitter: "From here I want to give support to @chrisfroome, months of work and everything gone. A big loss for the Tour. See you here next year."
Boom was in the day's breakaway and proved the strongest over the cobbles to win by 19 seconds from Nibali and his Astana team-mate Jakob Fuglsang.
It was a sensational ride from the Italian as he preserved his place in the leader's yellow jersey, by two seconds from Fuglsang and 44 seconds from Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
Boom was delighted.
"This was an epic stage," Boom said on letour.com. "This morning, when I saw the weather, I smiled a bit.
"For many years, I've dreamt of a wet Paris-Roubaix and I got what I wanted today at the Tour de France.
"It was a crazy race with all the crashes but I stayed at the front, out of trouble.
"It was an amazing feeling. I've been unlucky earlier this year. I had a broken elbow. This win is what I needed for my career."
The sixth stage is expected to end in a sprint, meaning Nibali should retain the maillot jaune he won in Sheffield for another day.
"I'm delighted with the outcome of today's stage," the Italian champion said on letour.com.
"It was a really stressful day and a very hard race. I wasn't thinking of the yellow jersey. I was just focused on riding the best I could.
"I'll keep my feet on the ground. I want to remain quiet.
"It's still a long way away with lots of mountains and everybody has seen today that crashes can happen."
Stage five result
1 Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin, 3:18:35
2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, +0:19
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, st
4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, +1:01
5 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing, st
6 Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica-GreenEdge, st
7 Michal Kwiatowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +1:07
8 Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana, +1:09
9 Matteo Trentin (Ita) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +1:21
10 Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, +1:45
1 Vincenzo Niabli (Ita) Astana, 20:26:46
2 Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, +0:02
3 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, +0:44
4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, +0:50
5 Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing, +1:17
6 Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol, +1:45
7 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol, st
8 Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky, +1:54
9 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin-Sharp, +2:05
10 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +2:11