PEYRAGUDES, France (Reuters) - Chris Froome's sign of weakness in the finale of Thursday's 12th stage of the Tour de France does not mean much, but it should give his rivals more confidence to take risks, three-time champion Greg LeMond said.
Froome lost 22 seconds to stage winner Romain Bardet of France at the end of a short, steep climb in Peyragudes, and 20 to Italian Fabio Aru, who snatched the overall leader's yellow jersey from the defending champion.
"It's a good sign (that the Tour is not over yet) but it was just two hundred metres and I would not think too much about it," LeMond, who is on the Tour as an analyst for Eurosport, said in his daily chat with Reuters on Thursday.
Although Froome could not follow Bardet, Aru and others in the final 200 metres, where the gradient rose to almost 20 percent, the Briton remains in contention and with a final time trial that will favour him in the penultimate stage.
"Sky still have a very strong team relative to others," said American LeMond, a Tour winner in 1986, 1989 and 1990.
"But Bardet, (Colombia's Rigoberto) Uran and Aru are all very close."
The Italian leads Froome by six seconds and Bardet by 25, with Uran -- second behind Bardet and just ahead of Aru in Thursday's 12th stage -- in fourth place, 55 seconds off the pace.
"Hopefully, seeing Froome crack will give them more confidence to attack," said LeMond.
"I think they were intimidated."
LeMond added that Bardet and Aru should pile the pressure on Froome and not hesitate to play mind games as the three-time champion is still the favourite.
"If Bardet attacks, Aru should let Froome work to catch him, and if Aru attacks, Bardet should do the same," he said.
Friday's stage is a punchy 101-km trek from Saint-Girons to Foix featuring three category-one ascents.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris