Chris Froome and his Team Ineos squad were forced to work for the majority of stage 2 at the Criterium du Dauphine, first in the pursuit of a dangerous break and then when Tour de France contender Thibaut Pinot attacked several times in the finale.
In the end, Froome finished safely in a group of elite overall contenders that included among others Pinot, Adam Yates, and Nairo Quintana, while the stage honours and race lead went to Dylan Teuns.
The 180km stage between Mauriac and Craponne-sur-Arzon featured eight climbs in total and with bitter rain and wind, the stage was always going to involve a test of attrition. There was little surprise when race radio crackled through the names of some early abandons. The intensity rose another notch when a thirteen-man break that included Tom Dumoulin, Emanuel Buchmann, and Julian Alaphilippe moved clear. That move brought Froome and his Ineos squad into play and they held the break at around one minute before eventually wearing them down on the final set of climbs.
The race was far from over and on the Côte de Saint-Victor-sur-Arlanc, Michael Woods and Pinot attacked over the top. Froome and his trusted sidekick Wout Poels were quick to spot the danger but Daniel Martin, Richie Porte, and Steven Kruijswick were not attentive or strong enough and eventually lost around 30 seconds.
"It was a much harder day in reality than on paper," Froome told ITV and Cyclingnews at the finish after his warm-down and stretch routine.
"With guys like Buchmann and Dumoulin going into the break, it put a lot of pressure on us behind. I think that the guys rode fantastically if I'm honest and it was a big workload to deal with. There wasn't much flat and it was always up and down. The guys rode fantastically to control it for that long. EF Education First came to help us towards the end but the lion share was on Team Ineos."
Froome followed the key move on stage 1 when Alaphilippe attacked the final climb and the four-time Tour de France winner was in a similar role a day later. He was forced to chase when Pinot attacked once more with the rolling roads into Craponne-sur-Arzon provided the necessary terrain but after two testing days, Froome is well placed in eighth overall and with time on several of his Dauphine and Tour de France rivals.
"I felt a bit better than I did yesterday, now that the race is settling into the race a little bit. But it's still early days but today was like an Ardennes day, as opposed to the mountains. There's still the lion's share of the race to come."
Pinot may have finished fourth on the stage and narrowly missed out bonus seconds but he was in fine fettle throughout the stage. His stinging attack with Woods split the peloton and in one move showed up a handful of riders who are unlikely to make the podium at the end of the race. The Frenchman's volley of attacks after the climb failed to gain any time but he certainly stands out at this point in the race.
"Thibaut was very impressive today. I could feel every time he came through. He was pulling harder than everyone else. I think Jakob Fuglsang seems to be in great shape as well and we'll see how the race goes on."
Stage 3 of the race should be determined by a bunch sprint but stage 4 will see Froome and Pinot go head-to-head in the individual time trial. There are more important tests to come but the first flashes of Tour de France form have now been seen.