With Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas tied on the same time after two stages of the Volta a Catalunya, both won by Cofidis' Nacer Bouhanni, the Team Sky duo are ready for the first mountains stage of the Spanish WorldTour race. The stage 3 climb to La Molina will be Froome's first mountain test on European soil this season having started his year in Australia, winning the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, while Thomas has won both European stages races he's started this season.
Froome and Thomas will start the day at 20 seconds in arrears to Bouhanni with their major rivals, Richie Porte and Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), Fabio Aru (Astana), Dan Martin (Etixx-Quick Step) and and Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) to name just a few, having safely negotiated the sprint friendly stage 2 to Olat.
"Today was good, really good. The plan was to go through the day without any problems and save energy for tomorrow. We have two hard stages coming up. Sadly Swifty had a free card for the sprint, but it didn't work out as we wanted it too," sports director Nico Portal said of the stage.
From four previous starts in Catalunya, Froome's best result is sixth place overall in 2014 with the La Molina finish key to his aspirations of a higher overall result. The La Molina climb featured on stage 3 in Froome's last appearance at the race with Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez taking the win, 13 seconds ahead of the Tour de France winner. The queen stage was conquered by BMC's van Garderen last year with Porte runner-up for Sky and Portal is expecting the Pyrenean climb to again shape the overall standings.
"Tomorrow we need to be set and ready for the GC fight. It's all about Froomey, but we have Wout [Poels] and G as options. It's a big day," Portal added.
Although Thomas crashed during Saturday's Milan-San Remo, wins at Volta ao Algarve and then Paris-Nice are early vindication of the 29-year-old's decision to focus on stage racing in 2016. Along with Poels, who won Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, finished seventh at Ruta del Sol and 14th at Tirreno-Adriatico, Thomas will be called upon as a super domestique for Froome.
"The guys are looking good after Paris-Nice but we'll have to see how G climbs with Froomey. It's going to be good. Chris will want to have a go to see where he is after two months without any racing," Portal said.
The former French professional added the plan is a straight forward one for Sky, "Our plan? If we have any chance to build time gaps we will go full gas."