Tour de France: Froome primed for Pyrenean showdown

'I couldn't ask for a better start going into the mountains'

If Wednesday's stage to Le Lioran provided a glimpse under the bonnets of this year's Tour de France contenders, then the next three stages leading up to Sunday's epic to Andorra will see a much fuller examination.

Chris Froome hasn't put a foot wrong so far in the race. The only sign of weakness has surrounded the form of his Sky teammates Wout Poels and Mikel Landa, who were both dispatched out the back when Movistar lit up the stage on stage 5.

At the end of stage 6 to Montauban Froome's gaze was already focused on the mountains ahead. "It was quite straightforward today and relatively easy," Froome told Cyclingnews. "Obviously it picked up for the sprint but it's another day for us to tick off. We stayed safe and out of trouble.

"I couldn't ask for a better start going into the mountains. It's the start I dream of. I'm really happy with how things are going so far."

Froome sits fifth on GC and could conceivably take yellow on the first test in the Pyrenees on Friday when the race heads to Lac de Payolle. In his previous two Tour wins, Froome has laid down a marker in the first mountain stage and blown his opposition away.

This year, the Tour organisers have looked to limit the possibility of Froome – or other GC riders – repeating such a show by following that tough day with two even harder stages. It means that the strongest riders may wish to temper their enthusiasm, especially with Friday's finish coming after a long descent off the final climb of the Col d'Aspin.

"I don't think that the climb is that hard," Geraint Thomas said at Thursday's finish.

"There will be selection but I don't think it will be mano-a-mano. From there, each day is harder and the selection will be less and less. At Andorra on Sunday, we could see gaps and a guy maybe winning on his own," he added, hinting at what might play out.

Team game

Friday's stage is likely to be dominated by an early break before both Team Sky and Movistar take control. The Spanish squad have Alejandro Valverde a few seconds ahead of Froome and Nairo Quintana tied with the defending champion. Team Sky will be wary of Movistar's aggressive tactics, especially after Wednesday, and it will be interesting to see if they anticipate attacks or play the long game. Experience suggests the latter.

"I guess up until now you'd say they were the strongest team, but a lot can change," Thomas said.

Froome will also know that his team are not yet at 100 per cent. They have kept their leader out of trouble but Wout Poels and Mikel Landa were both shelled out the back on a moderate stage.

"A couple of guys did have a tough day yesterday but I still had four guys," Froome told Cyclingnews.

"I'm really happy with how the team is looking. I think it will get better and better for us once we get into the high mountains."

Poels admitted that he is still searching for his best condition and pointed to last year's Tour when he suffered at the start but then found his legs.

"Today the feeling was better than yesterday. Tomorrow is another hard day and we want to help Chris again. Yesterday when Movistar went full gas on the really steep part of the climb I just wasn't good enough and couldn't follow," Poels said. "Last year, though, the first week wasn't the best, and then I went better and better. The most important thing is that we have lots of riders with Chris. I don't think that the difference will be that big tomorrow. For me, Sunday is the hardest for the GC."

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