Chris Froome (Team Sky) came through the first medium mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France with his title defense intact. A tense day from Limoges to Le Lioran saw Team Sky and Nairo Quintana’s Movistar sparring on the front of the peloton over the final set of climbs.
The British rider finished 9th on the stage, and now sits 5th overall 5:17 down on new race leader, Greg Van Avermaet. Quintana is 7th overall, at the same time.
"For us it was just about staying up front. Those descents were pretty tricky, pretty dangerous, and it was about not really losing any time to other GC guys."
The stage may have lacked a decisive climb but the six categorized ascents were more than enough to test the peloton. Movistar took charge of the bunch on the Puy Mary, shedding Vincenzo Nibali, before Team Sky took control. Romain Bardet broke rank and attacked on the penultimate climb but Sky successfully lead the chase.
"From our side we’re happy with that, happy to stay out of trouble and it’s one more day down now," Froome said, his gaze firmly focused on the tougher Pyrenean stages coming up.
"It was more about just keeping out of trouble because the big GC days are still to come. Today was one of those where, yes, it was selective but it wasn’t necessarily going to be a big showdown between the contenders themselves."
Nibali’s surrender and loss of over 8 minutes was not expected, while the sight of Alberto Contador losing ground was just another nail in the coffin for the Spaniard’s hopes. He limited his losses but finished without any teammates and is now 1:21 off Froome and Quintana.
"Surprised by Vincenzo, yeah, I would have expected him to be coming here with his A-game to be honest. With Alberto that’s quite normal after a big crash or the couple of big crashes that he’s had. No one wants to see that, ourselves included. I’d rather gain time in the mountains from him not because he’s hurt and injured and suffering."
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While Movistar’s pace was about decimation, Sky’s was built upon a steady rhythm – slow enough to keep Froome fresh but fast enough to deter attacks. Only Bardet's foray, which was followed by Quintana, was saw Sky forced to alter their speed.
"He [Chris] was looking comfortable," said his teammate, Geraint Thomas.
"Like I say, it was just about him not really losing time. It wasn’t really a day for a big GC battle. Obviously some guys lost a bit of time but for Froome it was just about staying at the front, staying calm. It was tough when Movistar went on that climb, I certainly felt it and I think the whole peloton exploded then. It was certainly tough, but yeah it didn’t affect the top GC guys too big, but we’ve got three days in the Pyrenees.
"For us it was just to control, stop any big attacks coming. Movistar did all the damage and then for us it was just about controlling the pace and the last thing you want is for it to be attack, attack. Nobody sort of went until the end."
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