For a team known for their marginal gains approach, the margins couldn’t have been finer. Team Sky missed out on victory in the Tour de Francestage 9 team time trial by just 0.6 seconds to the pre-stage favourites BMC. Key for the British team, though, was that they were able to retain the all-important yellow jersey for Chris Froome, which many believed could be going to Tejay van Garderen by the end of the day.
“I think that everyone gave it their all but in the end BMC were point six of a second faster than us so congratulations to them,” Froome said after the stage, before being whisked away to make his flight to Pau where the teams will stay during the rest day.
“We really can’t be disappointed by that, we were within a second of BMC. For everyone’s morale it would have been fantastic to get the stage win but importantly we’ve kept the yellow jersey, we’ve put more time into most of our rivals, we’ve got to be happy with that."
It was cat and mouse throughout the stage between BMC and Sky, with both going through the first check point at almost the same time. Team Sky got the edge at the second check, going through one second quicker than the American outfit. The final check came just two kilometres to the finish – 300 metres before final climb - and it looked like Sky had it secured with five seconds now separating the two but the Côte de Cadoudal proved to be the deciding factor and Sky rolled through agonisingly close to the stage win.
“The guys gave it everything, everyone was really motivated for this team time trial,” said Froome. “Of course we saw Nico Roche struggling a little bit up that final climb but I mean that’s the nature of the team time trial, he put so much in earlier on. We can’t put it down to him struggling on the last climb. That’s just a team effort and today BMC were better than us.”
With the expectation that Froome would lose the jersey in the team time trial, considering their performance at last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné compared with BMC, the relief was evident. Going into the mountains with the yellow jersey allows him a certain level of comfort.
“It’s really put us into a fantastic position,” Froome said. “I think this next phase of the race, obviously tomorrow we’ll sit down and discuss what we’re going to do thing going forward, but the pressure is certainly not on my shoulders to be making the race and to be trying to take time back from anyone at this stage it is for the other riders to try and get the jersey from me and for us to be potentially riding a more defensive race.”
The biggest loser of the day was surprisingly Vincenzo Nibali, who gave away another 35 seconds to Froome, and is now 2:22 down on the Team Sky rider. Alberto Contador is now over a minute behind while Nairo Quintana jumped some places overall but is still 1:59 behind Froome. Heading into the first rest day, van Garderen is currently the biggest threat to the yellow jersey at just 12 seconds back.
“Tejay, I’ve said from the beginning of the race is definitely someone to look out for, given that in the Dauphiné he was also right up there in the climbs so I think we can expect something similar,” Froome said. “Of course, some other rivals like Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana they’ve both lost quite a substantial amount of time already so the pressure is definitely on them to be attacking once we go into the mountains.”
The opening stage in the Pyrenees will bring the riders up the summit finish at Le Pierre-Saint-Martin and their first hors categorie ascent of the Col de Soudet.