Chris Froome (Team Sky) may not have reached his top form yet but the signs are there that he is close after he attacked from the main group of race favourites on the final climb to Pra Loup on stage 5 of the Critérium du Dauphiné on Thursday.
Froome was unable to reel in stage winner Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), after the Frenchman’s fine solo attack on the penultimate climb of the stage, and he had to watch as Tejay van Garderen (BMC) rode away from him in the final kilometre to take the overall race lead. However, Froome was relatively pleased with his ride, finishing third on the day and sitting in fifth place overall.
The stage, which included the climb and breathtaking descent of the Col d’Allos, will be repeated in this year’s Tour de France. Froome put his team to work on the first major climb of the race with Ian Boswell putting in a gargantuan turn on the front of the peloton.
“It was definitely an eventful stage,” Froome told reports as he warmed down after the stage.
“It’s a good feeling to be back in the mountains again and this is what we’ve trained for and this is what the racing is all about for us. I was third today, of course I would have preferred to go one or two better but I’m happy with the feelings.
“The team did a fantastic job today; they took it on, on the penultimate climb and made it really hard. Ian Boswell rode out of his skin to make the race as tricky as possible and try to set it up for me to make a move in the final.”
At roughly two kilometres to go on the final climb to Pra Loup the group of GC contenders was down to just a dozen men. Froome made his attack in the exact same place where Bernard Thévenet attacked Eddy Merckx to take the stage 15 victory and the overall race lead at the Tour de France back in 1975.
Overnight leader Rohan Dennis (BMC Racing) had been distanced on the Col d’Allos but Pierre Rolland, van Garderen and defending champion Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) were all there. Last year’s Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alejendro Valverde (Movistar) had already been distanced, however.
“It’s too soon to say anything about the Tour de France. The legs are feeling good and I was happy to be up there but hearing on the radio that contenders like Valverde and Nibali were dropped, that was music to our ears. The Tour is still far away and we’re still focused on here, as this race is important in its own right.”
Nibali, it must be said, is a notoriously slow starter in the Dauphiné and tends not to show his top level until the Tour. Froome’s acceleration was the first time he had opened the throttle since the Tour de Romandie and he admitted that he began to run out of gas as the finish line approached. As van Garderen noted in his post-race press conference, when Froome attacks he is not normally seen again until the finish.
“I started running out of steam in that last kilometre but up until then the legs felt good. It wasn’t a particularly steep climb but the signs are good, especially looking forward to the longer climbs to come.”