Fuglsang with room for manoeuvre in the Tour de France GC battle

Astana rider fifth on first rest day

Fifth in the general classification, Jakob Fuglsang (Astana Pro Team) believes he has room for manoeuvre in the Tour de France, for two reasons. 

The 32-year-old 2017 Criterium du Dauphiné winner believes that both the dual leadership role he enjoys with Fabio Aru and the 97 seconds separating himself and race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky) make him less likely to loom large on the Briton's radar. As a result, he has more freedom to go on the attack - something he believes Astana can use to their advantage.

"I hope we can make the most of having two riders high on GC," Fuglsang said in the Tour's rest day press conference, where he sat next to Fabio Aru for the main interview, in what constituted a clear visual statement that both riders counted as overall contenders for the Kazakh squad.

"Of course Froomey cannot go after both of us and I'm still at a distance where he may not concentrate so hard on me yet. So he'll follow [Romain] Bardet (AG2R) and Fabio" - third and second overall - "but we can still play this card [himself] in some way."

Victory in the Criterium du Dauphine was his first in five years, since the Tour of Austria in 2012. But the 2016 Olympic silver medallist has confirmed in the Tour's first week that his haul of two stages and the overall of the Dauphine cannot have been a fluke, particularly on the Tour's stage nine mountainous trek across the Jura to Chambery. As a rider whose best results in a Grand Tour date back to 2013, when he took seventh in the Tour de France, Fuglsang has bounced back into the big time with a vengeance this summer.

"Stage nine was an important stage, particularly after the Planche des Belles Filles on Wednesday" - where the Dane lost time - Fuglsang said. "At Belles Filles I didn't have the level I normally have, I must have overheated of something, so stage nine was important for my confidence. But these longer, tougher stages tend to suit me better than short, steep climbs."

"I'm very happy with the start of my race in general, I wouldn't have thought I'd be so far ahead."

Fuglsang's strongest day on the Tour so far in Chambery also saw Astana entangled in a controversy over whether they should have worked or not with Chris Froome (Team Sky) in the finale. As it was, Aru and Fuglsang helped the Briton chase down Romain Bardet (Ag2R La Mondiale). For the Dane, there was only one choice at that point, despite the fact that Bardet could have taken the lead had Froome not reeled the Frenchman in, and that might have thrown the Tour wide open. "We also wanted to win the stage, if Fabio had won it and taken the time bonus, that'd have been in our favour," Fuglsang argued.

Despite his excellent own ride, stage nine produced decidedly mixed feelings in Fuglsang nonetheless, given the Dane was right behind the crash involving Geraint Thomas (Team Sky), who fell heavily and left the race with a broken collarbone. "You know everybody on the race is a very good bike handler, but of course it makes you nervous, seeing a crash like that, which can happen just by bad luck, or if there's a bit of oil on the road. [Team-mate] Alexey Lutsenko crashed there too, his bike just went from under him."

"So after that I was riding round the corners as slowly as possible for a while, I was just happy to get to the finish in one piece."

Fuglsang knows that as a general rule, though, he will have to decide whether he rides the Tour more conservatively to keep his fifth place overall - "if you asked me to sign for fifth before the Tour, I'd have done it" he said afterwards - or whether he'd prefer to go all out for something more.

"It's difficult to say," he concluded, "it depends on the day. Of course, when we started the last stage of the Dauphiné, I was more than happy with my third place. But we ended up winning it."

"Of course, I'm happy now with my current position. But as a team we still have to try to win the Tour."

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