Portal plots Froome's comeback in Tour de Romandie

Key mountain stage set to shake up overall standings

From the moment Chris Froome lost time in the prologue at the Tour de Romandie on Tuesday, Nicolas Portal began drawing up battle plans for Team Sky's comeback.

The seconds Froome lost to race leader Fabio Felline (Trek-Segafredo) were not the most pressing matter but the 20 seconds conceded to danger man Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) certainly were a concern. A number of other GC rivals including Ion Izagirre (Bahrain-Merida), Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) and Simon Yates (Orica-Scott), also put time into Froome with the Tour de France winner unwilling to take risks on the wet course.

"He started as one of the first in the prologue as we tried to gamble with the weather. He had in mind the Tour de France so he didn't take too many risks on the corners. He lost some time and that's affected the way we've been riding. It means that we need to make some moves and make the race hard," Portal said at the finish of stage 3.

Since the prologue, Sky have ridden a measured race, opting to stay off the front until necessity called for it, or like on stage 3, when they successfully sealed a sprint win with Elia Viviani. This is not Team Sky's Tour squad and Portal's riders have saved their powder for the final mountain stage. If Froome is to win the Tour de Romandie for the third time in his career, his team will need a show of force on stage 4 as the race moves into the mountains before the final individual time trial.

The 163.5km slog from Domdidier to Leysin holds four climbs: the Jaunpass, Saanenmoser, Col du Pillon and final ascent to Leysin. All are positioned inside the second half of the stage and the terrain flips between bearable and severe. None of the four climbs stretch out to longer than 7km but the 10.5 per cent pitches on the Jaunpass will stretch the peloton towards its breaking point, while the final climb – 4km in length – averages around 8.5 per cent before the final kilometre levels off at a more manageable 3.4 per cent. This is not Team Sky's ideal terrain – they would argue for longer climbs – but it's the best they have to play with.

"Some of the climbs we know from the past editions of Romandie. We know it's going to be a GC day before the time trial. We need to use that stage as much as we can. We're not the only team to think that way and there's still some gaps with three climbs to come," Portal told Cyclingnews after stage 3.

BMC Racing are in a similar position having seen their GC leaders lose time in the opening day's racing. Trek-Segafredo are unlikely to control stage 4 and have Jarlinson Pantano waiting in the wings for when Felline falters. The Colombian told Cyclingnews that he would be going ‘full gas' on stage 4.

"We'll ride the stage in the same way," Portal said when asked if Sky would race for the stage or the GC.

"It's good to go for the time bonuses at the line but it's important to use all the climbs in our way. If you're one of the best climbers and arrive at the bottom of the last climb with fresh rivals it's not the best so the team will try and make it hard in some places. We'll give everything. Even if a breakaway wins we can still make gaps. It means that the stage win is not super important but gaining time is."

 

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