According to one speculative report in the French press they'll soon be teammates, but for the next 72 hours at least, Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Chris Froome (Team Sky) will battle it out for honours at the Criterium du Dauphine.
After five stages, Porte holds the advantage, sitting second overall behind Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal), with Froome sixth and 37 seconds down on the Australian. With three days to go – and all of them in the mountains – the Dauphine is tightly poised with Porte looking to build on his already impressive season. Froome, on the other hand, is playing catch-up with three weeks until the Grand Depart and his best form still some way off.
The expected outcome from stage 6, with the climb of Mont du Chat and the final descent to La Motte-Servolex, is that the GC contenders will flex their muscles and that De Gendt will crack under the pressure. The Belgian told the media during possibly his final yellow jersey press conference of this year's race that his chances rested on hope rather than expectancy. After Porte drew blood in the stage 4 time trial, a number of rivals, including Froome, will be looking to respond with Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador all in the fray. The likes of Simon Yates, Daniel Martin and Fabio Aru all need to attack if they are to maintain their hopes of making the podium.
"It's crucial that if I want to win this race then I need to be good in the next days," Porte Cyclingnews at the finish of stage 5 in Macon. "I feel good, I feel relaxed, and it was nice to win a time trial like that for the morale. Whatever happens tomorrow I've already got some good sensations heading into the Tour."
As for Froome, a former teammate and leader at Team Sky, Porte expects a fight all the way until Sunday's final stage. Froome has won this race for the last two times and is vying to become the only man to win in four times. Although he was dealt a blow in the Stage 4 time trials, he remains on Porte's radar. While the Australian is in form, there's no appearance of complacency in the BMC camp.
"I guess he's got to attack," Porte said. "I don't think it's that he's not going well. He's strong and lean and I guy like him will want to show what he's made of."
In Porte's favour is the fact that unlike many of his rivals he has seen the Mont du Chat at first hand. The 8.7-kilometre test beings with 9 per cent ramps but has pitches of 15 per cent. It's relentless with no let up all the way to the summit.
"I've seen it a couple of times. It's a super hard climb and a tricky descent to the finish. It's going to be a solid stage. Everyone is talking about the descent, but you've got to make it to the top of the climb first.
"It's going to be quite tactical at the start. Today was another hard start, and it's going to be interesting. We've got a team here but if the peloton looks to us to ride, but it's not up to just us. For guys like Valverde, Contador and Froome, the harder the race the better they go. I expect it to be a pretty fast day."