Chris Froome placed a significant down payment on final overall victory at the Tour de France during Friday's demanding time trial in the Ardèche but in light of the previous evening’s terrorist atrocity in Nice, the Sky rider preferred not to discuss his performance at the finish in La Caverne du Pont-d'Arc.
Before Froome (Team Sky) sat down for his post-stage press conference, a spokesperson from the race organisation informed reporters that the yellow jersey would field just one question, "not on sporting matters."
In the event, Froome simply picked up the microphone on taking his seat and delivered a short statement, reiterating what he had told French Télévisions during the live broadcast of the stage and the minute of silence that followed.
"Everyone's thoughts are with those affected down in Nice. It's difficult for us to even be here talking about the race when all of that was happening down in Nice, somewhere that's pretty close to home for me. I do a lot of training on those roads," said Froome, a resident of Monaco.
"To see the Promenade [des Anglais] the way it was yesterday evening, with bodies all over the road, is just horrific. They were horrific scenes and my deepest sympathy and deepest condolences go out to all of those families who lost loved ones yesterday evening in Nice."
The 37.5-kilometre time trial through rolling terrain was run off in an understandably muted atmosphere following the tragedy in Nice that saw 84 people killed during Bastille Day celebrations in the city. Speaking to French television, Froome voiced his support for the race organisation's decision not to cancel the day's stage.
"Today was sport but that was real life last night," Froome said. "It was good to show our solidarity with the French public today."
It was left to Sky directeur sportif Nicolas Portal to assess Froome's lofty position atop the general classification. On crossing the finish line at Chalet Reynard on Thursday, it seemed that Froome had lost the maillot jaune as a result of the absurd crash that had left him to run up the mountain without a bike while he waited for a replacement machine.
The commissaires subsequently amended the results and Froome remained in yellow, and his performance in Friday's time trial now means that it will take something very special indeed to wrest the garment from his shoulders.
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Showing no ill effects from his crash on the Ventoux, Froome powered around the hilly, windswept course in the second best time, 1:03 down on the unassailable Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), but far quicker than any of his principal rivals. The gains on this day were anything but marginal.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Richie Porte (BMC) each lost two minutes to Froome, while Tejay van Garderen (BMC) scarcely fared much better. Only Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) will be truly satisfied with how they limited their losses, but in the overall standings, they are still 1:47 and 2:45 behind Froome, respectively. Quintana, meanwhile, is now some 2:59 down on Froome.
"We've taken an advantage but it's clear that the Tour isn't over just yet," Portal insisted. "Chris has done a super TT today, he's gained time on all of his rivals and that's perfect for us, but we know that Nairo is always good in the final week."
Portal demurred when asked if Mollema, so strong on Mont Ventoux on Thursday, was now Froome's main rival for final overall victory in Paris. "I wouldn't say that he's the principal rival but it's clear that he's in great condition. He could be up there for the podium because he was very good on Mont Ventoux and he did a super time trial today," Portal said, though it seems memories of Quintana's late surges in 2013 and 2015 clearly still linger as a warning.
"We're still thinking about Nairo because he's still up there, but it's true that Mollema has been a revelation."
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