Critérium du Dauphiné: Chris Froome's late show of strength adds to Tour de France conviction
Briton cruises to victory in the Dauphiné but still launches final attack to help Sky team-mate
Chris Froome's status as favourite for the Tour de France received a boost after he cruised to overall victory in the Critérium du Dauphiné following his second-place finish in Sunday's final stage.
Froome not only netted the overall win but also made a personal bid to reward team-mate Richie Porte with one last victory – on the most challenging of terrain, a major Alpine stage.
Such was Froome's strength and self-confidence that the Sky leader even powered away in the final kilometres of the summit finish at Risoul ski station, with Porte, second overall and his second-in-command for the Tour, a few metres behind.
Froome's "present" failed to materialise, but only because Porte was visibly struggling to keep to Froome's back wheel as the Briton sheared through the dense, rainy fog towards the summit finish.
Lifting his foot off the accelerator to let the Australian keep in contact was arguably the only reason why Froome could not catch the lone breakaway and stage winner Italian Alessandro De Marchi, who crept across the finish line victorious but with a margin that had shrunk from two minutes to 24 seconds on the Briton in just a couple of kilometres.
Reflecting on the fact that he and Porte claimed the top two spots overall and what that meant for the Tour, Froome said: "It'll be a huge advantage having both of us aiming for high positions and this is a great test considering what we'll face in July.
"I know I'm going to do everything possible to win there, and there are good reasons to trust a team like this one. But in cycling, nothing is ever guaranteed. Now I can have a glass of wine with my team-mates to celebrate the victory and then go back to work, checking out the route of several of the [Tour's Alpine] stages."
Overall, in any case, Froome's "gifting strategy" was the last conciliatory gesture from the Briton before he starts the Tour on 27 June and for his rivals, it will be a singularly depressing thought.
The Briton has won four out of five stage races he has taken part in this year. His progress throughout 2013, with victories from February to June in which he has won the Tour of Romandie in May and the Dauphiné, both of which Sir Bradley Wiggins triumphed in last year, has indicated inexorably rising form towards the Tour itself.
Froome's – and Sky's – superiority is such that team manager Sir Dave Brailsford was at pains on Sunday to play down their chances and said:
"He's not the Tour's favourite, he's just one of them.
"The most dangerous thing we can do now is to be too confident, to start thinking about how simple it is, when that's not at all the case. We have to be really watchful, all the time."
Froome was equally keen to avoid drawing any meaningful conclusions from Tour arch-rival Alberto Contador's relatively disappointing 10th place overall finish. "I know it'll be very different in July and he'll be a very dangerous rival," he said.
"Beating big names like I've done shows I'm in good shape and that I've worked hard, but the Critérium isn't the Tour de France and nothing, obviously, is guaranteed."
Froome's strength in this week's Dauphiné, regarded as the most important of all the pre-Tour "test races" has cast aside all doubts as to Sky's wisdom in opting for him as team leader ahead of Wiggins, who was forced to sacrifice the Tour because of a knee injury.
Yesterday's final gesture also was a useful indicator that Froome is notably stronger than their plan B for the Tour, Porte.
Sky's one major hiccup in the 2012 Tour was the speculation – fuelled by a couple of moments in the mountains when Froome outpowered Wiggins – as to whether Froome had actually been capable of beating Wiggins in the race. This time round, with Wiggins not present and Porte struggling to keep with Froome in the mountains yesterday, there should be no such debate over the correct pecking order.
Yesterday the man in yellow at the Critérium du Dauphiné will be Sky's best bet for wearing the same colour in the Tour. And judging by this week, there is every sign he will do so in equally imperious style to Wiggins in 2012, all the way through to Paris in 45 days' time.
1 C Froome (GB) Team Sky29:28:46 2 R Porte (Aus) Team Sky +58
3 D Moreno (Sp) Katusha +2:12
4 J Fuglsang (Den) Astana +2:18
5 D Navarro (Sp) Cofidis +2:20
6 M Rogers (Aus) Saxo +3:08
7 A Valverde (Sp) Movistar +3:12
8 R Dennis (Aus) Garmin +3:24 9 S Sanchez (Sp) Euskaltel +4:25
10 A Contador (Sp) Saxo +4:27
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