Stage 2 of the Tour de France from Utrecht to Zelande could not have panned out much better for Chris Froome (Team Sky), with the former winner putting time into every single one of his main pre-race rivals during a gripping and tense battle through Dutch crosswinds.
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) conceded four seconds after a late split but Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) – both victims in the crosswinds – lost 1:28 to the British rider on a day in which their overall aspirations took a damaging blow.
Podium contender Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) also lost a handful of seconds to Froome, and what's more, Team Sky succeeded thanks to the work of others, with Etixx-QuickStep, BMC Racing and Tinkoff-Saxo the main protagonists in splitting the bunch.
After today's pulsating action, Froome sits 10th overall, 48 seconds down on new race leader Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing). Van Garderen may be in 8th at 44 seconds, but Contador is now 12 seconds down on Froome, while Nibali is at 2:09 and Quintana at 2:27.
"This is a huge advantage for us now, sitting in this position after one flat day out on the road, that's fantastic. But this is a three-week race and as we've seen, things do change on a daily basis. We're ahead today, but who knows what's in store for us for the rest of the week?" Froome told the media after his warm-down.
"I'm really thankful to my teammates for keeping me in front all day, especially when it really mattered when that split happened."
The pre-stage predictions of bad weather were proved right with driving rain and a blustery wind whipping in from the North Sea. The conditions created havoc, with Tinkoff the first team to attempt a split with just over 103km of racing remaining.
That was just a warning and after the peloton regrouped and the heavens opened, Etixx-QuickStep split the bunch with an acceleration that had Quintana and his Movistar team in disarray.
Nibali was the next to fold, losing ground on the lead group after Adam Hansen crashed near him.
"We were hoping that the storm was going to hold off after the finish," Froome said. "But that wasn't to be today, and I'm just glad it worked out the way it did and I had the support from my teammates when I really needed it. And being in the final split with Geraint and Yogi [ed. Stannard], they did a great job keeping me up there."
"One second Nibali was right next to me, I couldn't believe he was distanced. That's the nature of the racing here in Holland."
Nibali and his teammates rallied and initially had the group of Froome, Contador, and van Garderen at 51 seconds, but despite the conditions easing in the final 25km the damage had already been done.
Nibali's group merged with Quintana's and they eventually trailed in 1:28 behind stage winner Andre Greipel, and with Froome in 7th place. Contador finished in a group with van Garderen at four seconds.
"Two days down now and I couldn't have hoped for much more at this stage," Froome added.
"It was only a good few kilometers after the split happened that we actually found out that it was a smaller group and so many of the GC guys had been distanced already. It was chaos out there for a few minutes with the storms, the winds. It was a nasty old stage."