LE-PUY-EN-VELAY, France (Reuters) - Chris Froome's closest rivals missed a unique opportunity to win the Tour de France after the defending champion was dropped off the favourites' group at a critical moment in Sunday's 15th stage, according to three-time champion Greg LeMond.
Froome suffered a mechanical problem when Romain Bardet's AG2R-La Mondiale were going full out and had split the bunch before the key climb of the day.
But the Frenchman, instead of making a big effort himself, along with Italian Fabio Aru and Colombian Rigoberto Uran, stayed in his team mates' wheels, eventually allowing Froome to come back.
The Briton stayed in yellow, 18 seconds in front of Aru and 23 seconds ahead of Bardet, with Uran in fourth place, 29 seconds off the pace.
"Bardet, Aru, Uran, lost the chance of a lifetime," LeMond, who is on the Tour as an analyst for Eurosport, said in his daily chat with Reuters.
"When Froome had his mechanical, Bardet should not have had his team mates working, it should have been him, Aru and Uran, if you want to win the Tour.
"AG2R had a great ride but, at some point, Chris is going to come back up, he had (team mate Mikel) Landa (helping him). Unless you ride yourself at the front, you're not going to distance Chris Froome. They lost the opportunity."
LeMond, who won the Tour in 1986, 1989 and 1990, could not understand why Bardet, Aru and Uran did not collaborate to gain time on Froome.
"There were 30 kilometres to go and they all had an interest in distancing Froome. Personally, if I was one of them, I would have gone flat out, no team mates left," the American said.
"Bardet used the team properly, but then you're not going to distance Froome using the team mates who are already tired having ridden in the front all day.
LeMond questioned the riders' desire to win the Tour.
"Some people are winners and others less (so). Killer instinct -- you've got to go for it," he said.
"All three of them missed an opportunity. You can't ask your team mates to do everything. Riders don't race like they're going for the Tour win.
"AG2R rode like they were riding for the team classification."
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris