The narrowest of defeats for Sky in the Tour’s team time trial on Sunday nonetheless saw Chris Froome complete the first week of the race safely in the overall lead and well on track for the title in Paris.
Clad in a tailor-made yellow skinsuit and taking impressively long turns at the head of the team’s string of five riders, Froome led them up the stage’s grinding final climb – the one-mile Côte de Cadoudal – and Sky looked to be on the point of taking their first Tour team time trial win.
But when the road steepened on a sweeping final right-hand bend, Nicolas Roche found the pace too demanding and fell slightly behind. It is the fifth rider’s time over the line which counts for the team and it allowed American outfit BMC Racing Team to edge them out, albeit by a mere six-10ths of a second.
Such a narrow defeat, at the end of a relentlessly challenging 17-mile course on Brittany’s undulating country roads, was never going to be easy to digest and Roche was initially heartbroken at being, as he saw it, responsible for Sky losing. “One second – it was my fault,” he said.
But as Froome pointed out, even if a stage win would have been ideal, reaching the Tour’s first rest day today in yellow and with a time advantage on all his rivals puts him in a perfect position for the upcoming mountain stages. “The first phase of the race has gone very well. We’ll sit down tomorrow to discuss how to do things, but the pressure is not on my shoulders,” Froome said. “We could race defensively from here on.”
While Froome’s lone performances will be critical from this point onwards on the next fortnight’s relentless series of mountain stages, the Kenyan-born Briton paid tribute to his team-mates’ collective effort yesterday. “To lose a time trial by 0.6 seconds – you can’t really say we messed up,” Froome argued, “everybody was really motivated. Nico struggled a little on the final climb, but that’s the nature of a team time trial. You can’t put our defeat down to him struggling. BMC were better than us.”
Sky’s performance was impressive and, thankfully, incident-free, as they equalled BMC’s provisional time on the first intermediate checkpoint and then drew one second ahead at the second, five miles from the line.
Froome had said before the stage that the key to success would be to have five riders at the foot of the final climb, but with six Sky riders still together at that point, it was clear that Froome at the very least would not lose the yellow jersey.
Roche’s finale left the British team slightly on the backfoot but it was a footnote in a near-faultless performance, which saw Sky gain time on all their rivals bar BMC – three seconds on Movistar, 27 on Alberto Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo and 34 on defending champion Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana outfit.
Froome went so far as to name BMC leader Tejay van Garderen, currently his closest pursuer at 12sec down, as his new biggest rival, pointing out that the American had already run him close once this year, in the Critérium du Dauphiné. “I said he would be someone to look out for,” Froome said.
Froome’s comment effectively extends the number of top pre-race favourites for the Tour from the so-called Big Four – himself, Nibali, Nairo Quintana and Alberto Contador – to a “Fab Five”. But with Contador now over a minute down and Quintana and Nibali at around two minutes, there is no doubt as to the name of the Tour’s standout favourite.Reuse content