MOIRANS-EN-MONTAGNE // Chris Froome believes the strength of Team Sky in the Tour de France must be sapping at the morale of his rivals for the yellow jersey.
Sunday’s 160km Stage 15 from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz was seen as a key opportunity for contenders to make up time on Froome in the fight for yellow given it included six categorised climbs and more than 4,000 metres of climbing.
But while IAM Cycling's Jarlinson Pantano won from the breakaway up the road, Sky shut down every attempt at attacking from the peloton without Froome needing to do any of the grunt work, keeping him 1 minute, 47 seconds clear of Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema.
Even on a day when Mikel Nieve suffered a crash on the final descent and Geraint Thomas was delayed by a puncture, Froome had Wout Poels for company all the way to the line, and it was the Dutchman who did the hard work in chasing down attacks from Astana’s Fabio Aru, Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde and AG2R La Mondiale’s Romain Bardet on the final climb.
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“I really am in such a privileged position to have such a strong team around me,” Froome said. “It may be the strongest team Sky has ever put in the Tour de France and these are guys who would be leaders in other teams in their own right.
“It must be quite demoralising for other people to have to think of attacking knowing this calibre of riders will be chasing them down.”
The difficulty of the stage created plenty of opportunities but might also have been the reason that none of Froome’s rivals could make anything stick.
Watching it all play out was Adam Yates, the 23-year-old Englishman who is third overall but spent most of Sunday just trying to hold on to the rest of the contenders.
“When you’re already riding that hard, to try to ride a little harder you can only do it for so long,” the Orica-BikeExchange rider said. “Sky are going super right now and the moment anyone attacks they’ll just bring them back.”
Froome was even able to toy with his rivals, feigning an attack on the final climb, the Lacets du Grand Colombier, to send a brief moment of panic through the chasing pack.
“I just wanted to see exactly what the state of play was,” he said. “What reaction I’d get and who would follow. Obviously Nairo was on my wheel quite quickly. It was just to give me an idea of who might be making a move over the top.”
With Monday’s 209km Stage 16 from Moirans-en-Montagne to Berne relatively flat – although the technical finish could rule out a conventional sprint – Froome is already looking forward to Tuesday’s rest day before tackling the Alps next week.
“It’s going to be fantastic just to recover a little bit before things kick off again next week,” he said. “Next week there’s such a big block ahead of us we need to save a bit of energy for that now.”
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