Stage 4 of the Criterium du Dauphine was supposed to be a stage for the sprinters and a relative day off for the overall contenders, and although Edvald Boasson Hagen came away with the win, it was Chris Froome (Team Sky) who benefited after his principle rivals lost time in the uphill finish.
The Team Sky rider glued himself to the front runners and finished 14th on the stage. Alberto Contador and Richie Porte – the two other favourites for the Dauphine – finished nine seconds down. Contador still leads the race but his advantage has been cut from 13 to four seconds over Froome. With three tough mountain stages to come the Team Sky rider is breathing right down Contador’s neck.
And while Contador has looked to deflect attention of the importance of the Dauphine, Froome has repeatedly made a case of using the defence of his Dauphine crown as part of his Tour preparation.
“From the word go here I’ve said that this is an important race for me,” a determined Froome told Cyclingnews at the finish of the stage.
“The Dauphine is an important race in it’s own right. Yes, it’s the last race for me in the build up before the Tour but it’s important in it’s own right.”
When asked about the splits in the peloton, Froome added, “I didn’t expect to make up time today, definitely not. On paper it was a pretty straight forward sprint.”
Contador argued that the time gap should never have been given to his group: "The truth is that losing nine seconds don't bother me," Contador said. "What bothers me more is whether or not the rule of the last three kilometers gets applied. The split on the finishing line was due to a crash."
Into the mountains
The nine seconds Froome has clawed back may not appear significant but in a race in which the overall contenders have fought tooth and nail to protect their positions it could end up being crucial. Contador, for instance, insisted earlier in the race that he lost Paris-Nice to Froome’s teammate Geraint Thomas after losing a handful of seconds by not paying attention.
The next three days in the mountains, however, should see clearer time gaps open up. The summit finish to Vaujany is a second category climb but comes after six previous cols.
“If the prologue is anything to go by then the Alberto and Richie are the guys to watch. Alberto has to defend the jersey and it’s up to myself, Richie and the other climbers to try and get some time back,” Froome added.
As for his BMC rivals who have kept Porte safe, the defending Tour de France champion added: “BMC were on the front for a long time today and in the wind for a lot. I had our guys sit behind them for a lot. So hopefully for us we’ve managed to save a lot of energy for tomorrow. We’re going to need it for the next few days that’s for sure.”
Before he disappeared onto the Team Sky bus Froome was asked whether finishing first or second in the Dauphine really mattered in the context of winning the Tour.
“Looking towards the Tour there’s no difference. Of course it’s great to have the confidence of winning a race like the Dauphine but I know my preparations are on course, whether that’s third, 10th or 20th I feel like I’m on track.”