The British team, who had Michal Kwiatkowski in the yellow jersey and Geraint Thomas in fourth place – with Gianni Moscon and Jonathan Castroviejo in between – controlled the opening mountain stage of the Dauphiné in their usual style. But when the attacks started in the final kilometre of the short final climb to Lans-en-Vercors, their nominal 'co-leaders' went in opposite directions.
When Dan Martin kicked off hostilities, Thomas sprang immediately onto the Irishman's wheel. Kwiatkowski, however, couldn't respond and drifted out the back of the group.
Moscon, ninth on the stage in a group that finished eight seconds down on Thomas, moved into yellow, six seconds ahead of his two teammates Kwiatkowski and Thomas. Thomas' third place on the stage and four-second bonus combined with the 17-second gap to Kwiatkowski on the line wiped out his 21-second deficit and put him level on time in third overall.
Arriving back at the Team Sky bus some five kilometres down the mountain, a sullen Kwiatkowski skipped his warm-down and declined to speak to the press.
Thomas did both, however, and confirmed what the road had just suggested.
"I've always said from the start, it just happens like that naturally. Someone will be better and you just go with that," Thomas told Cyclingnews.
"Hopefully he [Kwiatkowski] can still be there or thereabouts anyway – it's not like he's going to sacrifice himself and sit up and lose minutes, but for sure it will give a bit more of a… whatever the word is."
While Thomas looks like Sky's main man, it's Moscon who's in yellow.
The Italian is in his third season as a professional and has consistently impressed as he's risen through the ranks, even if his precocious performances have been somewhat overshadowed by a string of ugly incidents. Having ridden deep into the race at his first-ever Paris-Roubaix two years ago, and finished fifth the following year, it became clear his skillset was not limited to the flatter terrain as he did an astonishing job for Chris Froome in the mountains at the Vuelta a España before finishing third at Il Lombardia.
This is the first time Moscon has led a WorldTour race, and while there aren't many as difficult as this Dauphiné, with three more high mountain stages to come, winning isn't beyond the realms of possibility for him, with Sky's rivals all more than a minute down.
"He's a great rider, a great talent. You saw that last year. He's riding really strongly, and it's great for him to wear the yellow jersey in such a big race," Thomas said.
"You never know. Like I say, there are three more big days. It depends where he sits in the line-up, and if he's got to ride a bit earlier or something. But as long as the team wins, that's the main thing."
Moscon himself, meanwhile, was quick to play down any suggestion that he might win this race.
"I don't know how long I can keep this jersey, but the goal was to support Geraint and Kwiatkowski to try and win the race. I think my role doesn't change. Already tomorrow I will work for them."
Still showing the superficial marks of his prologue crash, Thomas displayed no signs of weakness as he latched onto Martin's wheel in the finale. After strong showings against the clock, it was evident that the Welshman, who has been training at altitude since finishing 33rd at the Tour de Romandie in late April, is coming into form ahead of the Tour de France.
However, he warned there are tougher tests still to come.
"I was feeling good today. On paper, it's probably the easiest of the four but it's a good start. The final climb tomorrow [stage 5] is probably the hardest single climb, which will be another good test, but obviously, the weekend has three or four big climbs in the day so it gets progressively harder. But for the first mountain day, not bad," he said.
"I've been working really hard, lost a bit of weight. I wasn't going bad at Romandie, I just had one bad day on the TT day. And that coupled with being a bit heavy and just not quite on it, there's nowhere to hide. But I don't think I was as bad as some people thought. Since then I've been on the regime, working hard in Tenerife, with this in mind and then the Tour."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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