The 13 seconds separating stage winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) on the opening day of the Criterium du Dauphine may end up being inconsequential in context of the race, but for two men so utterly focused on the Tour de France they could prove to be hugely significant.
While both men claimed at the finish that they were not yet at their best, Contador came away with the spoils – a stage win, a yellow jersey and the a morale boosting showing against his Tour rivals. Froome, third at 13 seconds, was by no means poor, and over the 3.9km course he looked at ease, only tightening up in the final few hundred meters. However, and rather significantly, this was Contador's first victory against Froome in a time trial on French soil.
"I started really well. Today was a day to use the form that I had built up in training. I am happy with the sensations," Contador said after he pulled on yellow.
"I knew there was a good trial on this course but I didn't know if it was tough enough to win. My legs were missing speed, my heart was beating like crazy but I can't say it's a surprise to beat Chris Froome. However, I didn't expect to win. It was a very hard time trial, especially from km 2 to 1km to go with a gradient of more than 20 per cent. You had to do the first part really fast and keep the rhythm there as well. The fact it was hard suited me really well."
The uphill course certainly suited Contador, with his rocking, out-of-the-saddle style in full swing as the gradient varied on the climb. The fact that he put over a minute into Fabio Aru – who fared the worst out of the GC riders – will not have gone unnoticed either.
"The climb, especially in the final, was tough. It is completely different to doing a time trial on the flat. For riders with characteristics like mine it is very beneficial."
Contador's game plan for the next few days remains unclear. Team Sky arrived with almost their entire Tour de France team and certainly mean business with four riders finishing inside the top 13. Tinkoff may look to relinquish the jersey in order to save their powder for the final mountain stages, but knowing Contador it’s just as likely that he will look to maintain momentum.
"I gave 100 per cent and I'm content now with the day. The race is a good marker for the Tour, and the general classification will be very difficult, especially with teams such as Sky, who are here with a really potent team. We will just take it day by day."