Another part of Team Sky’s masterplan for the Tour de France fell faultlessly into place today as Chris Froome soared away from the opposition to take the stage win and the overall lead of the Criterium du Dauphiné - and in the process, neatly outduel arch-rival Alberto Contador in the high mountains.
Smarting from his worst defeat in years in Wednesday’s time trial, with two kilometres left to go of the Valmorel climb Contador roared away from the pack of half a dozen riders, clearly attempting to turn the tables and at the very least regain some credibility for his Tour de France bid by snatching an Alpine summit finish stage win against Froome.
But if Contador proved that he is - currently- the strongest climber amongst Froome’s rivals with his late acceleration, and that Wednesday’s abysmal time trial result may indeed have been a result of extremely bad pollen allergies, as he said, the Saxo-Tinkoff rider was powerless to stop Froome from first closing the gap and then dropping him 400 metres from the line.
Following Wednesday’s time trial result, where he put nearly three minutes in all his theoretical rivals for July, Froome had already proved categorically that he is way ahead of his game of all the contenders, and will go into the Tour as top favourite. This mountain top victory and lead only reinforces that impression - and there is painfully little his rivals can do to outstrip him.
“After the hard work my team-mates did, getting a win today was the least I could do to thank them,” Froome said afterwards. “[But] the objective was the overall lead.”
Froome had already defeated Contador in a mountain-top finish, this year, in the Tour of Oman in February on the Green Mountain climb where the Briton also took the lead. Fast forward four months and with a stage win at the Dauphine’s first big mountain stage as an added bonus, Froome had, he admitted, again wanted to demonstrate his climbing superiority to Contador, too, analysing his victory as “a good exercise, as well as seeing what my form is like for the Tour.”
Just to add to Sky’s satisfaction, Froome’s team-mate Richie Port remains in second place, overall, despite doing the bulk of the hard work whittling down the main group on the last climb. For the third year running, therefore, with three stages remaining the British are now in complete control of the Criterium du Dauphiné, to a degree where it seems not only this race, but the Tour de France itself, look closer and closer to being the British team’s to lose.