Omar Fraile (Astana) won his maiden Tour de France stage, Primoz Roglic (LottoNL Jumbo) climbed the Croix Neuve at an incredible rate of knots, but just right of centre stage the subplot of the fight for overall victory between Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin began a new scene.
This storyline may not have reached its climax, but the slow build towards the Pyrenees and the terrain on which this Tour de France will surely be decided is coming ever closer with each day. And what's more, everyone can feel it.
Mende gave us another intimate insight into the thin margins that separate the GC contenders at this year's Tour de France. After brief appearances near the back of the lead group on the climb to the Mende airstrip, Froome and Dumoulin rose to the occasion, with the latter splintering the leaders with a powerful, yet seated acceleration. Thomas attacked, and as we saw on the Alpe d'Huez, the three riders currently leading the standings were more or less on the same plane.
Leadership status between Froome and Thomas remains the talking point at this year's race. The Team Sky pair remain locked in first and second, divided by 1:39, but it was Thomas who once again looked the strongest when the climb to Mende began.
The yellow jersey may look back at these days as lost opportunities later in the race if Froome discovers the sort of form that carried him to victory at the Giro d’Italia, but the defending Tour de France champion saw today's result as another successful step towards Paris.
"Not much has changed in the top three on GC, but I'm pretty happy with that so far," Froome told ITV and Cyclingnews almost immediately after crossing the line.
Back at the team bus, and after his regular warm-down, Froome opened up further about the stage and acknowledged that Dumoulin was Team Sky's main threat. Froome was not asked if Thomas was in the same boat as Dumoulin. The Dutchman remains third overall, 1:50 down on Thomas and 11 seconds behind Froome.
"It was a tough finish, and the size of the group showed how tough that climb is, but I'm really happy with that ride," Froome said. "It was a short climb, but we saw what damage it did with gaps opening up, with a few seconds gained here and there. Dumoulin is sitting in third place at the moment, just a few seconds behind me, and he's our biggest threat at the moment."
Instead of seeing Thomas' lead as a question mark over his own chances, Froome spun the situation as a positive one.
"We can ride off each other. I imagine for our rivals it's making it quite difficult having two guys to watch like that. Tom looks really good. He put in a good attack there today and there's still going to be some tough racing," he said.
"There's still a good week of racing left. We'll keep chipping away and we're in a fantastic position with first and second on GC. It gives us those options to play in the final, as we did today."
There were essentially two races today. Omar Fraile (Astana) won from the break to take his maiden Tour de France stage, while Roglic was the main beneficiary from the GC group when he crossed the line some 18 minutes later. Roglic gained eight seconds on Thomas, Froome and Dumoulin. Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet, and Mikel Landa all lost even more time.
"It was an explosive finale. Quite steep. A 10-minute effort, and as we saw there were quite a few gaps opening up. It was quite a selective day out there. I feel good. The day was good," Froome said as he made his way back into the Team Sky bus.
"My aim was always to try and ride into this year's Tour, and I feel like I've timed it well. Obviously, I had a good block of recovery after the Giro and building into the Tour was the right thing to do for me."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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