Chris Froome and Team Sky survived an onslaught of attacks from their general classification rivals to remain within touching distance of the overall lead at the Tour of the Alps. Froome currently sits in fourth place, 16 seconds back from the overall leader Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ).
Though it came with more than 60 kilometres from the finish in Merano, the first climb of the Passo della Mendola was the site of attacks from the GC riders. Team Sky tried to maintain a level of control of the bunch, but a move containing Pinot, Domenico Pozzovivo and Mark Padun (both Bahrain-Merida), and eventual stage winner Ben O’Connor (Dimension Data), went off the front with just over 50 kilometres of the stage remaining.
Froome did briefly set off in chase of the four, together with Astana's Miguel Angel Lopez, but they sat up and ultimately relied on their teammates to close the gap. Kenny Elissonde was once again the last man standing for Froome on the final climb.
"It was a short but intense stage today, and it was a very tactical race," Froome said after the stage. "Astana had the numbers there today, so for me, logically, it made sense to stick with them and work with them on the final climb to bring back the attacks that had gone earlier in the day.
"From my side, the team was really good. Kenny, again, was fantastic today in the final, as was David de la Cruz."
The breakaway began to look quite dangerous as they worked with the remnants of the day's earlier move and held an advantage of close to a minute as they began the final climb. Eventually, however, Sky's efforts began to come good, and as they crested the top of the Passo Palade the gap had been halved.
Once Elissonde peeled off, Froome took things into his own hands, adopting an almost Caleb Ewan-style lean over the handlebars as he chased down the descent. It worked and Pinot, who struggled to keep up with his companions on the high-speed run down the mountain, glanced over his shoulder to see Froome coming up to him with 11 kilometres left. Froome neatly slotted into the leading group, moving up the inside of Pinot on a right-hand bend.
"Over the top of the final climb, it was just about trying to get back to the front of the race and neutralise that group, with Pinot and Pozzovivo, who had gone over to the break," Froome said.
"I enjoyed going down the final descent. It wasn't dangerous, but it was fast, so it was good fun. I also knew I had to use that descent to close that gap to the group in front because if we got down to the flat, I think it would have been difficult to get people to commit to work. So I took the responsibility there on the descent and did everything I could to close the gap."
Froome continued to put the hammer down and went clear of his rivals for a brief moment on the descent, but it regrouped by the bottom with 11 riders coming together.
O'Connor would attack and take the stage win while the main GC contenders crossed the line together five seconds back. With fifth-placed rider Fabio Aru now 50 seconds down on Pinot, the overall classification battle looks to be between the top four with just two stages remaining.
Though the overall classification of the Tour of the Alps would be a nice conclusion to the week for Froome, his main priority remains the Giro d'Italia next month. With that in mind, the Team Sky rider decided to ride the 30-kilometre journey back to his hotel in Bolzen alone.
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