Standing outside the Team Sky bus as the snowflakes curled down on Sierra Nevada behind him, Sky team coach Tim Kerrison described Chris Froome’s second place behind Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) on the dramatically difficult Hazallanas climb as “a fair reflection of the current state of play.”
“We knew it was going to be a hard fought stage, and Chris is very happy he’s come to this race after doing Oman for the last couple of years,” Kerrison told a small group of reporters as the Sky riders wheeled past and either opted for a warm down on the rollers or headed directly for the warmth of the team bus. “He feels it’s a better race for him at this time of year and exactly what he needs.
“He’s done a great block of training in South Africa for the last three weeks or so, but he’s got a lot more to come. He feels that Alberto’s getting ready for the Giro, whilst Chris’s sights are set a little bit further down the line in July.”
Kerrison pointed out that it was key that Froome “didn’t over-react to the early move by Contador” - attacking seven kilometres from the summit. “He rode his own pace, clawed his way back through the group and managed to close some time, not all the time, on Alberto. Overall we’re happy and we feel it’s very useful feedback.”
Having Contador as a reference point is a very useful one so early in the season, Kerrison recognised, “because if he wasn’t here and Chris had won that stage by a minute 20 over the rider who was third, [Romain] Bardet (AG2R), then I think that possibly would have given us all a false sense of security.
“So to come here, get some very honest feedback, where he is and where Alberto is, and where he needs to go, it really gives us a lot of motivation to keep working hard and focussing on working for the Tour.”
Kerrison recognises that both Froome and Contador rode very much with their usual style and approaches, Contador attacking hard and blasting away and Froome moving his way back into contention slowly but steadily.
The fact that Contador went so early as well made for a very clear picture of the two riders and “even when there were riders between them, Chris was working his way through them. The climb was so steep that teammates really couldn’t contribute much, so it was pretty much two of the top cyclists going head to head, which is good to see.”
Asked if Froome was on track for July, Kerrison said “we’re happy with where he’s at for now. We’ll go back [to the team hotel], look at the numbers. You have to calibrate the actual level of the performance and work out exactly where we are at.”
However, he said, one noteworthy fact, was “the distance they both put into the rest of the field, guys like Bardet who is a quality climber.”
That Froome was regaining time on Contador “is a reflection of how they both took the climb. Alberto went very hard at the bottom of the climb to get that time, and then dropped speed, but that turned out to be the right tactic for him on the day. Chris rode a more even pace from bottom to top so naturally the gap got quite big and then it shrank. I think it’s a reflection of two different pacing strategies, not necessarially one better than the other, maybe both of them the right one for each.”
As for tomorrow’s second uphill finish of the race, Kerrison said “we’ve seen who the two best climbers are of the race, it’s still quite a hard ascent so hopefully Chris can turn it around, but I think we’ll probably see a quite similar order at the top of the field.”