Chris Froome safely navigated the Jayco Herald Sun Tour prologue last night to finish in 26th place, eight seconds down on winner Will Clarke (Drapac). On the opening road stage of the Victorian race though, Froome was splitting the peloton to pieces up the Mt St Leonard climb with teammate Peter Kennaugh the only rider capable of following his wheel.
The duo arrived at the finish line in Healesville, where the stage had started 126.1km previously, with Kennaugh enjoying his second win in a week following his solo success at the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and moving into the overall race lead.
"I am really happy, that’s the first real big hit out I’ve had this season and I was really happy with my feelings and I think it’s a really great start to the season for me," Froome said following the podium celebrations where he collected the king of the mountains jersey.
Having set his Team Sky teammates to pace setting duties on the front of the peloton leading into the 8.3km Mt St Leonard climb, once the day's six-man breakaway was reeled in on the lower slopes, Froome then attacked in familiar fashion to ride off the front of the peloton. With Kennaugh bridging over to his teammate, the duo then worked together for the run in to the line with Froome assisting the British national champion to the stage and yellow jersey double.
Froome explained in his post-race comments that Sky's tactics played out to perfection as he thanked his teammate's for their efforts, singling out Kennaugh for all of his previous work in contributing to victories.
"It was a good day for us out there. The climb wasn't super selective on paper and I think a lot of people were expecting it to come back to a bunch sprint but we don’t really have any sprinters here so we thought, well we don’t really have many opportunities here so let’s just give it everything we’ve got and the guys did a fantastic job setting it up," he said.
"They made it as hard as possible on the early slopes then I took over. It’s also a really nice feeling to give something back to Peter Kennaugh, the number of times he’s emptied himself for me out on the road and he’s been part of both of my Tour de France victories. It’s nice to be able to so something for him."
Stage 2 and 3 of the 2.1 race are expected to finish in bunch sprint finishes, suiting the likes of Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) and Niccolò Bonifazio (Trek-Segafredo), with Sunday's Arthurs Seat queen stage set to decide the overall standings.
Kennaugh leads Froome on the general classification by seven seconds with Dion Smith (ONE Pro Cycling) third at 23 seconds. Although it is the AvantiIsowhey duo of Robbie Hucker and Joe Cooper at 25 and 26 seconds respectively and Jack Haig (Orica-GreenEdge) at 32 seconds are more likely to cause Team Sky trouble.
With ten bonus seconds on the line for stage winners this week, Kennaugh and Froome's advantage over their GC rivals could be trimmed but the Team Sky duo are in prime position to occupy two of the three podium positions with three kilometre Arthurs Seat climb suited to their characteristics.
“We are going to try and protect that now, Pete’s in great shape," he added. "He won Cadel’s race just a few days ago so we’ll try and keep the jersey on his shoulders now."