The riders and staff at Team Sky celebrated their total dominance of the first mountain finish at the Tour de France at Ax 3 Domaines in their usual modest way, exchanging smiles, handshakes a few hugs but their huge satisfaction was palpable as they warmed down on the rollers or quickly ate some recovery food inside the team's camper van just past the finish area.
Richie Porte arrived a little after several of his teammates because he had been selected for anti-doping control and he gave Pete Kennaugh a special huge and beamed a huge smile. The pocket-sized Tasmanian set up Chris Froome on the climb to the finish and then had the strength to also accelerate away and finish second on the stage himself and secure place overall, 51 seconds behind Froome.
"The day worked absolutely to plan. We expected [Nairo] Quintana to attack and maybe he attacked too far out and so we used our team perfectly. I think Chris showed that he's the strongest guy, he's here to win, so it's an incredible day," Porte told the media that had gathered at the black camper van.
"I think I've shown this year that I'm thereabouts. I was second in most of the races I've done. This is the big one, we can't get too carried away, it's a long way to Paris but I enjoyed today. It's such an advantage riding on the front, taking everything and putting the guys behind to the sword."
"When I saw Quintana and [Alejandro] Valverde were pretty tired, it made sense to set off at my own pace. It was one of those days that went to plan. I just hope the next two weeks are like that too."
Porte did not seem worried about defending the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.
"There's a lot of pressure but we showed it's possible. We've got a good strong team here and it’s also nice to be at the front and dictate the pace. It's a long way to go but let’s enjoy it," he said.
Praise for Kennaugh
Porte praised Kennaugh for his strong team performance. The young Manxman was part of the Great Britain track team in recent years and won a gold medal in the team pursuit at the London Olympic Games last August. He initially struggled to switch back to stage racing but secured his place at the Tour de France with a strong ride in the Critérium di Dauphiné. On the climb to the finish, he set up Froome and Porte with a long turn of speed on the front that put their rivals in the red.
"For me I think the standout rider was Pete Kennaugh. He stepped up and I was able to save myself until the finale," Porte said.
Kennaugh talked to the media while on the rollers. He had completed the stage on his lowest gear, savouring his own performance and that of Froome and Porte.
"I'm pretty pleased with myself and with the way Richie and Froomy were able to finish it off," he said.
"Getting selected for the Tour de France was a big thing and I was always a bit nervous about how I as going to perform and if I'd be able to live up to the job that I had to do. Today I proved why I selected. It's great for the team and for my own confidence."
100% dedication to Froome
Kennaugh said he was inspired by Froome's ability as a rider and team leader.
"It's so easy to commit to Froome because of the way he handles everyone. He has respect for everyone on the team no matter what the job is," he said.
"Every time you go out on your bike, you give 100% for him because you get 100% back from him. He's the most consistent rider I've ever met in my life. I've never seen him have a bad day all season. He's an incredible physical guy. The way he goes up hills is amazing and the way he controls his effort is very logical. He's not emotional, his attacks are very precise and he's able to hold and sustain that power."
Kennaugh showed he has the physical and mental strength to perform on the big mountain stages at the Tour de France.
"It's always a battle against yourself in your head. You ask yourself how much you can last but then a little later you feel better. You've got to keep positive and keep the negative thoughts out of your head," he said.
"It's almost a relief when it comes to your turn and you set the pace. When you get on the front and you can set your own speed, even if it’s faster, it's mentally easier."
"I was Olympic champion (in 2012) but everything else was pretty shitty for me. This is much better. It took me a while to find my form this year. I was down to ride the Giro but I was riding Catalunya and I rang Rod (Ellingworth – the Team Sky head coach) and said I didn’t feel fit enough. Then I proved myself in the Dauphiné."
Like Froome, Porte and the rest of Team Sky, Kennaugh is happy that the Tour has finally had a good shake down and that Team Sky has take a firm grip on the yellow jersey and the general classification. As a product of the Team Sky and Great Britain development programme, he loves to be in control and ride a measured effort.
"It's good to be able to now control the race and ride how we want to ride," Kennaugh said.
"The first week has been stressful with the respect thing and everyone bickering at each other. Hopefully now it'll down a bit and we can take our control of the race and do it how we want to do it."
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