Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas warmed down on the rollers in the shadow of the Roubaix velodrome, with the dust and fatigue of their Tour de France trip through the Hell of the North mixed with satisfaction and relief.
Both Team Sky riders finished in the front group, 27 second behind stage winner John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) with most of their overall rivals. Thomas is now second overall, 43 seconds down on Greg van Avermaet (BMC Racing), with Froome up to eighth at 1:42.
"I think it's a good position to be in. I'm really happy with that," Froome insisted after the riders prepared for the plane transfer south to the Alps.
"I'm relieved to get this stage behind us, I'm really looking forward to the mountains now, where the real race will start. I hope to come out of the mountains swinging."
Froome was well protected by his Team Sky squad, quickly recovering from a crash into a ditch and even making an attack off the front at one point.
"I had a little tumble halfway through, but I'm just grateful to get through the stage without having any major issue," he said, aware that most of his rivals finished on the same time but that Richie Porte crashed out after just 10km.
"I'm fine. Gianni (Moscon) went down, I went over the top, it was just one of those things, just gravel on a cobble section. Richie Porte is a friend of mine and he didn't make it. I don't know how badly injured he is, I hope it's not serous but it's always sad to hear that one of the main rivals is out of the race.
"I think most of the GC guys got through and finished in the front group, only a few missed out.
Froome was not concerned about the effects of racing on the cobbles but he intends to enjoy the first rest day in the Alps on Monday before starting the battle in the mountains.
We've done cobbles in the Tour before, this is not a first for us," he said. "Thankfully we've got a recovery day tomorrow and we'll definitely soak that up and make the best of it."
Geraint Thomas washed off the dust with a bottle of water as he spun the fatigue out of his legs. He was able to count on his cobbled Classics experience to avoid and survive any crashes, and the fight for position for each of the 15 cobbled sectors.
"It was just a series of sprints into every sector, and then it was just hard. We were on it all day from kilometre zero; it was three and half hours at full gas," he explained. "The plan was to be at the front and ride hard. We found ourselves in a really good position so we kept riding."
Thomas' skills helped him avoid crashing with Moscon and Froome.
"I was directly behind Froome and I saw Gianni go down, I just got around him, I kind of stopped, but got going quickly," he revealed.
"It was unlucky to lose Gianni to that crash, Kwiato to another, and Luke punctured, all within two sectors but that's the way it goes. I was feeling all right, I was as in a good position all the time, so yeah, all in all, it was a pretty good day."
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