Chris Froome placed a significant down payment on the 2015 Tour de France in the first mountain test of the race as his blistering attack saw his main GC rivals melt away, but his offensive continued into the post-race press conference, where he faced questions regarding his validity as a clean rider.
On the rest day night Team Sky announced that it believed Froome's files from the 2013 Tour had been hacked, and armchair analysts began picking apart his Mont Ventoux data, which showed his heart rate remaining fairly steady as he attacked up the climb. While Froome's ride to La Pierre Saint Martin may raise further questions, the 2013 champion was unequivocal in stating his stance against doping.
"What haven't I done? I've tried to be as much as a spokesman as I can for clean cycling," Froome said in his post-race press conference after taking Tour stage win number five. "I've spoken to the CIRC, I've made suggestions to the governing body to implement things like nighttime testing, I've pointed out when I thought there wasn't enough testing, cases like Tenerife. What else is a clean rider supposed to do?"
Having proven himself as the strongest rider in the race, questions of whether the next two weeks are now simply a procession in to Paris were inevitable. Froome's closest overall challenger, Tejay van Garderen (BMC), sits 2:52 minutes in arrears. Third on the stage, Nairo Quintana, is 3:09 minutes down, Alberto Contador 4:04 minutes, and defending champion Vincenzo Nibali at 6:57 minutes.
With Van Garderen forcing his way into the ‘fab four' due to the strong performances of his BMC team and the moniker of the favourites adjusted to the ‘Backstreet Boys', Froome's ride was akin to a pop star leaving the group to pursue personal success and ensure his name alone is up in lights.
With Nibali, Contador, Romain Bardet, Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Pèraud all losing contact on the climb, Froome explained that team's tactics to ride a defensive race went out the window when he heard his rivals were all struggling.
"Through the rest day we were really focused on today stage - not necessarily to come out to ride a really aggressive race. We were really happy for the breakaway to go today, we were going to wait for other teams to take it up und ride a bit more of a defensive race. When we got up onto that final climb and we heard the big names that were struggling and getting dropped, I turned to the guys who were with me at the point, it was Wout Poels, Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and just said ‘guys come on, lets push on here'."
Froome was with teammate Richie Porte and Quintana when he launched his attack, leaving the duo in his wake. While Quintana tried to close the gap, Porte dropped back to find his tempo eventually overhauling the Movistar rider in the final 300 metres to claim second place on the stage and add further icing to Sky's cake.
"Dream, dream scenario to hear all those names were getting dropped and to ride away in the yellow jersey," he said. "I really couldn't have asked for it to go any better, and for Richie Porte to come in second place there and take those valuable bonus seconds away from Nairo, Gee just a few places back in fifth… just a dream scenario. That's the kind of caliber of riders that I have supporting me at the Tour de France."
Ready for opportune attacks
Having showcased his ascendency on the climbs over his main rivals, albeit on just one summit in a heavy second and third week of the Tour, Froome and Sky can slip back into their defensive strategy, anticipating the expected aggressive tactics that are sure to play out. With several teams yet to affect the race and others trying to salvage theirs, Froome expects the unexpected with teams sure to test the fatigue levels of the maillot jaune supporters.
"It wouldn't be the first time and I think we are fully expecting that from other teams," he said. "Other rivals, other GC contenders are going to start taking the race on in other parts of the race. We saw back in 2013 with Alberto Contador really taking it on in the crosswinds, taking it on in the descent, really pushing it on the descents. I think we can expect all of the above."
Froome's lead may be approaching a stranglehold but having crashed out of the Tour last year, Froome is well aware how quickly it can fall apart and is sure to repeat the line until Paris unless the procession cannot last until the capital.
"Of course anything," he said of what can stop him winning the Tour. "A mechanical at the wrong point, a puncture at the wrong point could be pretty damaging. Obviously, we can expect other team to take on the racing on the descent, in the crosswinds, even teams to go quite early from the start and form the breakaway from earlier on and put us under pressure like that. I think obviously we have to be on our guard now, this is the time to just really stay on it and focus now."