When the British rider crossed the line hours later - third on the stage behind winner Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Richie Porte (BMC Racing) - the gaze on the defending Tour de France champion was just as intense, but at least he had answered some questions about his form. This was not his best ride of the season – he pointed to a mountain stage at the Volta a Catalunya for that – but this was certainly a timely response after a subdued performance in the stage 4 time trial. Matching Porte on the Mont du Chat, despite a small wobble when he was briefly distanced, shows progress.
"I'd be lying if I said that I was happy with third there. I hoping to try and get the stage win but I was a bit too eager and doing a bit too much chasing in the last kilometre chasing Jakob Fuglsang and then starting the sprint a little too far out," Froome told the gathered media after warming down and brief huddle with his DS Nicolas Portal and his trusted mechanic Gary Blem.
"All in all I'm pretty happy with how it went. It could have gone a lot worse. At least I was up front and the legs were pretty good. I'm happy to be up there with Richie at the moment, who is definitely in amazing form."
The climb of Mont du Chat may have provided the predicted battle ground for the GC fight with Porte, Fuglsang and Froome linking up with Fabio Aru after distancing the rest of their rivals but the breakneck descent to the line was just as important. It was there where Froome took the race by the scruff of the neck, setting a pace that his three companions at times struggled to match.
"Mentally it was a bit of an unknown for me. I've never done that before and I've never really seen it. So much has been made of that descent and how dangerous it is and everything but when I went for it on the descent I thought that it could go one of two ways here. But, too be honest, it was quite good fun. It was like playing a computer game going around all the corners. It was good fun really."
Porte purrs on Mont du Chat but Froome holds
On the climb itself BMC Racing set the early pace. Alejandro Valverde attacked and Romain Bardet provided his predicted cameo but it was Porte, Aru and Fuglsang who looked the most assured. Froome found himself on the back foot at one point but he rallied and clawed his way back before appearing to be one of the strongest riders near the summit.
"On the mid-slopes I was conscious of just how far there was to go and knowing that I would need to put in a big effort near the top when the big guys really went that I'd need to follow. I just took things at my own rhythm and then kept something in reserve," he said.
"I think that I've still got some work to do but things are still heading in the right direction. I think today's climb will show that I'm at least on track for July. It's nice to know that I'm there or thereabouts with Richie, the strongest climber at the moment."
The result moves Froome into second overall, 39 seconds down on Porte after bonus seconds are factored in. There are two more difficult days in the mountains to come and Porte will remain wary of his former teammate, who will not have given up hope of winning this race for a fourth time.
"Second on GC and I'm pretty happy to be there but I'm fully conscious that with two big days to come now recovery is going to be everything for Saturday and Sunday."
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