Chris Froome was keen to warm-down and debrief with Team Sky staff after the opening stage of the Tour of the Alps on Monday, but he appeared quietly satisfied with his performance on the short but intense stage to Folgaria.
Froome finished fifth in the ski resort east of Trento, 10 seconds behind stage winner Pello Bilbao (Astana), one place behind Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) but four seconds ahead of Fabio Aru (UAE Team Emirates).
Froome had not raced since Tirreno-Adriatico in early March but has recently spent 16 days training at altitude before a weekend of Giro d'Italia recon in northern Italy. However, he was fresh enough to respond to the attacks and the high speed on the final climb.
After taking a drink from team staff, Froome opted to ride out the effort of the stage by adding a few kilometres to his day. He spoke about the stage as he spun his legs on the rollers in the shadow of the Team Sky bus.
"It was a very short, explosive racing but that's what we thought it would be like coming into this race. I'm definitely heading in the right direction, my feelings are good," Froome told Cyclingnews and the other media who had followed him up to his team hotel in Folgaria.
Everyone at Team Sky was upbeat at the hotel after the riders put in a solid performance controlling the pace on the Serrada climb. Team Sky let Groupama-FDJ use up their riders early and then carefully controlled an attack by Pinot, with the Frenchman's former teammate Kenny Elissonde doing a long turn on the front to keep Pinot under control.
"Pinot was a little bit eager to get up the road," Froome said.
"There was still quite a big bunch left and quite a bit of climbing to go. Maybe he was hoping that someone else would go with him at that point. But he sat up when he realised that we were holding him."
Froome made his own surge and responded much later, in the final kilometres of the 19.2km Serrada climb. The 5.5 per cent gradient and the 134km stage length made it difficult for attacks to go clear, but Froome got a gap with Pinot, George Bennett (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida). They were caught by the chasers and then Bilbao made his timely attack as the overall contenders watched each other.
"It was getting quite selective at that point. I pushed on a little but to get back to the front of the race," Froome said modestly of his attack, even though the four had initially distanced Aru.
"It's hard to say on a really short stage like that. I don't think you can read too much into who is where. After 100km a lot of people still have the legs to follow an attack like that. It could be quite day after a long day of racing, say 180 or 200km."
Decisive stage 2
Froome knows that Tuesday's second stage to Alpe di Pampeago will be a more serous affair and far more important for the overall classification. The stage is 145km long but ends with a 7.7km climb to the finish line at an average gradient of 9.8 per cent. Climbers of the calibre of Pavel Tonkov, Marco Pantani and Gilberto Simoni have won there during the Giro d'Italia.
"We'll see how the next few days go. Tomorrow [Tuesday] could probably be the most decisive day of the week. At least the feeling are good for now," Froome said.
"It's first time for me [to Alpe di Pampeago]. I've looked at it in the race book. It looks pretty solid."
With no time trial at the five-day Tour of the Alps, Froome is aware that the time bonuses of 10, 6 and 4 seconds awarded at the finish of each stage could play a vital role in the overall classification.
"They could be really important. I was looking at the GC and I'm already 20 seconds back. Time bonuses could be quite crucial going forward in this race," Froome confirmed.
"For now I think everything is heading in the right direction, I'm pretty happy so far."
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