LE GRAND BORNAND, France (Reuters) - Defending champion Chris Froome welcomed his rivals’ lack of aggression as he stayed firmly on course for a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title after the first mountain stage on Tuesday.
The 10th stage followed Sunday’s punishing cobbled ride to Roubaix and Monday’s rest day and, with a long descent to the finish, none of the top guns were in the mood to risk a long-range attack.
Belgian Greg van Avermaet retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey after featuring in the day’s breakaway and he leads Briton Geraint Thomas, Froome’s lieutenant at Team Sky, by two minutes and 22 seconds.
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde is third, 3:10 off the pace, with Froome in sixth place, 3:21 behind Van Avermaet, who said he had “zero chance” of keeping the yellow jersey after Wednesday’s brutal mountain stage to La Rosiere.
For Froome, the 158.5-km trek from Annecy was one day ticked off his to-do list as the Briton remained in a perfect position to become the first rider in 20 years to achieve a Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double.
“We couldn’t have asked for much more, really. It was pretty steady,” said Froome, whose climbing abilities should do the talking in the coming days.
A final time trial on the eve of the Champs Elysees parade should also help him gain time on his rivals, with the exception of Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, who is 3:42 off the pace in 11th.
“We were pretty happy to have the numbers up front. For the first big mountain day I think the guys really showed exactly what we’ve been training for,” Froome added.
“I’m feeling pretty good.”
Among Froome’s rivals, the Movistar team — with three potential winners in Valverde, Nairo Quintana and Mikel Landa —did not even try to unsettle the four-time champion in yet another demonstration of their conservative tactics.
“Everyone’s got their own gameplan. Other people are probably also thinking about these next hard days coming up,” said Froome.
“No one really showed all their cards today. Everyone I think played it a little conservatively maybe thinking about the next two days to come, which are going to be hard as well.”
Dumoulin, the 2017 Giro champion, refused to see the day as a lost opportunity to shake Team Sky, the dominant force in the peloton. “It’s only the first mountain stage,” he told Reuters.
That stage, however, was fatal to last year’s runner-up Colombian Rigoberto Uran, who lost over two minutes just two days after losing ground following a crash on the cobbles.
“He’s pretty sore after crashing two times on the cobbles,” his EF Education First-Drapac sports director Charly Wegelius said. “He did what he could to limit the damage but unfortunately it’s the way sport goes. It’s a brutal sport.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris