Less than 24 hours after Chris Froome had delivered a devastating opening time-trial win in the Critérium du Dauphine, the Briton showed he is on top climbing form, too, when he outpowered the rest of the field to take Monday’s first summit finish, leaving him odds-on favourite for the Tour de France.
Perhaps the only potential fly in the ointment for Team Sky was a worryingly below-expectations performance by Richie Porte, on paper one of their top climbers. Touted by Froome as his preferred No 2 ahead of Bradley Wiggins for the Tour, the Tasmanian finished more than 10 minutes down, for unclear reasons.
At the front end of the race, meanwhile, only double Tour winner Alberto Contador, second in Sunday’s opening time trial, was able to withstand Froome’s climbing onslaught – and even then only up to a point.
Team Sky had upped the pace in the main pack on the final 13.5km Col du Béal climb, with Geraint Thomas and new Spanish signing Mikel Nieve laying down a relentlessly high pace. However, an all-out double acceleration by Froome five kilometres from the finish line shredded the lead group, leaving just himself and Contador in contention.
The Spaniard closely shadowed Froome as the Briton chased down several counter-attackers close to the summit – which represents a marked improvement on Contador’s performance in the same race last year.
However, he never actually attacked and when Froome made a prolonged upward change of pace in the last 800 metres, Contador did no more than stay glued to Froome’s back wheel, right the way across the finishing line.
The win extended Froome’s overall lead on the Spaniard to 12 seconds and the Briton was understandably delighted.
“I gave everything today,” Froome said. “In such a climb, it became a great battle with Alberto Contador. We rode flat out. It was really tough between the two of us. I’ve tried to attack him a couple of times but he was very strong.
“Today it was our first duel with the two of us in form, so I’m delighted to win.”
One Briton punching well above his weight yesterday was Adam Yates. The first-year pro finished an impressive eighth on the final climb and is lying ninth overall. Whatever happens next weekend in the Alps – which will now decide the race’s outcome – yesterday represents a significant step forward for the Orica-GreenEdge pro.