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Australian's 2015 Tinkoff-Saxo team bike
Winner of the 2015 Tour Down Under
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Chris Froome (Team Sky)
"I'm going to try to win the race"
Froome is now just one second behind race leader Simon Spilak (Katusha) after breaking away with the Slovenian rider on the mountain stage to Aigle but knows he can take overall victory in Sunday's decisive 18.5km time trial around Neuchatel.
The Team Sky leader lost a close sprint to Spilak but landed a knock-out blow on his rivals, finishing 57 seconds ahead of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), with other stage race riders even further back.
Nibali had hoped to dominate the stage, attacking alone on the final climb in the rain and cold but Froome responded, passed the Italy and then carved out his lead in the company of Spilak.
Following his early season setbacks and injuries, including missing Liege-Bastogne-Liege due to a mild chest infection, Froome showed he still riding well and on course to be at his best for the Tour de France.
"It was a good test," Froome told Gazzetta dello Sport, explaining his race tactics.
"I knew that the climb eased before the King of the Mountain sprint and so I attacked on the hardest part. Before Lopez and Nieve did a fantastic job."
Froome and Spilak sprinted shoulder to shoulder for the stage victory but Froome lost by a few inches.
"I wanted to win the stage but sprinting isn’t my forte. But now I'll try to win the race," Froome said.
Froome caught and past his Tour de France rival Vincenzo Nibali on the climb, dropping him with an out of the saddle effort that cracked the Italian. It was also a psychological blow for the Italian, who was angry at the finish.
"How do I think Nibali looked? It was a good test for him. He's here to get some answers, like me," Froome said, knowing he had found the answers he was looking for.
Team Sky directeur sportif Servais Knaven was happy to see Froome on form.
“It was a really strong performance from Froomey. It was great to see and naturally everyone is really happy. The team rode very well," he told the Team Sky website.
“The moment to go was earlier than we thought it would be but when Nibali attacks there’s only one thing you can do and that’s follow it. Then obviously Froomey kept on riding and dropped everybody which was really impressive."
“Spilak was going well and Froomey waited a bit so they could ride together. He has the jersey now so Katusha are likely to defend the lead. They are traditionally a team which defends the jersey. It’s a pity not to get the stage win but the most important thing today was to take time on as many people as possible. Now we’re in a really good position for the time trial but first we need to get through tomorrow (Saturday). That’s not going to be an easy day.”