Chris Froome (Team Sky) turned in a solid but not spectacular performance stage 6, the first summit finish of the Giro d'Italia, without losing time to any of the GC favourites, barring Esteban Chaves and Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who escaped to take the stage win and race lead, respectively.
Froome was rarely close to the front of the main chasing group behind Chaves and Yates as it shrank and expanded repeatedly between six and a dozen riders on the higher slopes of the Mount Etna.
After his difficult start to the Giro, which was blighted by both injuries from a training crash and time losses, the Briton was never visibly in trouble on this first crucial mountain stage.
Froome confirmed later that he was satisfied with his performance in general and also pointed out that he was looking to hit top condition later in the race.
For Froome, the ascent of Etna, was more about keeping his rivals in check than going on the attack. "I think it was a really well-executed stage by Mitchelton-Scott and it put a lot of pressure on the other GC contenders to work behind, BMC especially," Froome said afterwards.
"So congratulations to them for taking the stage win and the pink jersey today."
Froome said his own objective was to stay with the main group of favourites, and he crossed the line in 10th place on the stage, 26 seconds behind Yates and Chaves.
He is now eighth overall at 1:10 behind Yates and 54 seconds behind defending Giro champion Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb).
"My objective is to build through this race and be at my best in the third week, and I'm still on track for that," Froome said. "The team did a good job, we were up front and also represented in the breakaway with Sergio Henao, and the guys did a good job positioning me into the final to keep me safe and up there, ready for the climb. So I think all in all I'm just happy to tick this day off and look forward to reaching mainland Italy and carry on with the Giro."
Froome's sports director Dario Cioni was equally pleased with how the Briton had tackled the first stage of the race.
"We had Henao and [David] De La Cruz up there in the break, to put pressure on the others. Chris knows that his form is growing in the race, so today (Thursday) we didn't want to lose ground on [Tom] Dumoulin, [Domenico] Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida) and [Thibaut] Pinot (FDJ).
"He lost the bonus on Pinot" - who finished third behind the Mitchelton-Scott duo and got the four-second time bonus - "but nothing on Dumoulin. We are not underestimating the two Mitchelton riders, though."
On balance, Cioni said things had worked out well with the next crunch stages back in mainland Italy.
"It was the first summit finish, and there's always a question mark on how you perform there. But we knew he was up there in the Tour of the Alps with Pozzovivo and Pinot, so we were pretty confident. We know that he's on the way up."
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