Froome suffered a slight time loss on two of his key rivals, Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida), who regained three and eight seconds respectively. Tied on time with, amongst others, Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), Fabio Aru (Astana), Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) and Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb) and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R La Mondiale), the rest of the main favourites lost five seconds to the Briton. The two big losers of the day time-wise were two outsiders, Darwin Atapuma (BMC Racing Team), who crashed for a second time in two days, and Germany's Emanuel Buchmann (Bora-Hansgrohe).
Overall, therefore, Froome is now lying ninth at 21 seconds, with BMC Racing Team's Tejay van Garderen, Rohan Dennis and Nicolas Roche, plus Kelderman, arguably the most dangerous of the riders ahead of him should a GC battle materialize in Andorra, which seems likely. But the gaps, in any case, are all minimal between the main contenders following what Froome called a "pretty tricky final."
Although always amongst the GC teams jockeying for favourable positions at the front of the pack on a day of almost ridiculously strong head and crosswinds, Sky were notably present in the last 20 kilometres, when Ian Stannard, in particular, drove hard to stretch out the peloton as it roared towards the coastal resort of Gruissan.
"The guys did a great job, riding on the front all day and keeping me in position," Froome, 16th on the line, told reporters after warming down in front of a large crowd of appreciative French fans. "We were probably a little bit short in the very last few kilometres, but I can still be very pleased with the final result."
Froome said that although there had been some efforts to break the pack apart very soon in the crosswinds, it was all but impossible to do so. "Trek certainly tried after two or three kilometres that was way too early with 200 kilometres to go," he pointed out, "and it was always gong to be a long hot day if anyone did take it on."
After a day of tense racing but with few important gaps at the finish, Froome says he's now ready for a much more serious battle in the Pyrenees, in what will be an even less predictable scenario than the flatlands of France's southern coast.
"Who knows what kinds of time gaps we'll see. People are still not feeling very sure of their condition after the Tour and a lot of us haven't raced since then"; he pointed out. "A lot of guys, too, are coming into this race fresh after not having done the Tour. So there's a real mixture of riders here. It could go either way."
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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