With a slender 40 seconds covering the entire top 10 at the Critérium du Dauphiné after six stages, race leader Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) is wise to focus his gaze on a number of riders rather than focus on one specific rider, especially now that pre-race favourite Chris Froome (Team Ineos) is out after his horrific crash.
Yates leads the overall by four seconds over Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) with Tejay van Garderen (EF Education First) a further two seconds in arrears. However, 2017 winner Jakob Fuglsang, Steven Kruijswijk, Thibaut Pinot, and Nairo Quintana pepper the top 10 as the race heads into the mountains proper for stage 7 to Les Sept Laux-Pipay. The first summit finish and the final 19km climb will be a crucial moment in this year's race.
"Tomorrow is a short stage, there'll be a lot of guys want to go in the break, a lot of guys who want to take advantage and we'll just try and control the bunch as much as possible. Hopefully, tomorrow we'll get a little bit of help. But in terms of rivals, I think it's still all to play for. It's all very close on GC so I can't really single out one person," Yates told the media during his post-stage press conference on Friday.
Yates has been in fine fettle this week. He was highly impressive in the stage 4 time trial and held his own on stage 2 when several high-profile GC riders split from the main field after attacks from Michael Woods and Pinot. Second overall last year, Yates and his team will be charged with controlling the race on stage 7, and the question remains as to whether Team Ineos will help in the pacesetting duties. The British team are a wounded animal after Froome's crash, but they showed interest and intent on stage 6 when they set a brisk pace on the final climb. The speed was fast enough to dissuade any of the riders in contention to save their legs for Saturday's test, but in Wout Poels they have a genuine threat to Yate's yellow jersey.
"I wasn't surprised by Ineos tactics on the last climb, it was the standard protocol and if it wasn't them then it would have been another team," Yates said. "I think everyone was happy to stay together and wait for tomorrow.
"Today was long, rather calm with the three riders in front you had to control the race, tomorrow is a lot shorter so certain riders will try to profit from that," Yates said of the 133.5km test that includes four major climbs, with the last one – the Montee de Pipay last used in the 1980 Tour de France.
The danger man could well be Nairo Quintana, who has looked assured during this year's race but has not been at the Dauphine since his debut in 2012. He posted a respectable time trial and has come through every stage without scare or incident. Others, like Fuglsang, have crashed or lost time in the stage 2 split.
"I think it all depends on what happens in the first hour tomorrow,"Yates said. "On short stages, there's a strong possibility of a break staying away. I'm sure the GC guys will want to win, but if they have to sacrifice the whole team with still another day in the mountains, yeah people might wait and play their cards the day after."