Chris Froome (Team Sky) opened his Criterium du Dauphine with third place in the 3.9-kilometre uphill time trial in Les Gets, finishing 13 seconds down on winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and seven seconds adrift of his former teammate, Richie Porte (BMC Racing), who finished second.
The Team Sky captain had been among the early pacesetters and led for the majority of the stage before being nudged out of the hot seat by two of his potential Tour de France rivals.
There is often very little to learn from an opening prologue, but the 3.9-kilometre test certainly offered a glimpse into the form of a number of Tour de France contenders. Froome stated, even before Contador and Porte had started their efforts, that he was content with his ride but that there was still more to come. Two years ago, in a far flatter opening time trial in the Dauphine, he beat Contador into second.
“It was only a four-kilometre prologue, but that was really tough. There were gradients of 20 per cent, and I was running out of legs and just squeezing every bit out for the line,” he told reporters after the stage.
“I’m happy with the numbers and the feelings I had on the bike. I’m in good shape but I’ve still got some work to do, and we’re a month out from the Tour still. I’m glad that’s out of the way.”
Froome’s decision to set off early was matched by Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) and Thibaut Pinot (FDJ), while the majority of the overall contenders waited patiently at the foot of the climb.
“I had a look at the weather and in the last few days, it’s been raining in the afternoons here. Also, I just thought it would be easier to just get up and race, rather than wait all day. It also gives me a bit more recovery for tomorrow.”
Froome has come into this year’s Dauphine as somewhat of an unknown force, having altered his race programme for various parts of the season. He began early in Australia at the Sun Tour and was far from his commanding best at the Tour of Romandie in the Spring. He is, though, the defending champion at the Dauphine and with the Tour de France just a matter of a few weeks away every training session and race is more crucial than ever.
The 13 seconds conceded to Contador will not be a major cause for concern at this point, but the Spaniard has taken an early lead and looks intent on targeting the overall both here and at the Dauphine. So concerned is he with rest and recuperation that he skipped the post-stage press conference in order to retreat to his hotel.
“I’m happy with my build up,” Froome added.
“It’s been very different to last year, much slower of an approach this year and I’m hoping that it will bring me to the third week of the Tour in better shape than in previous years.”