DUESSELDORF, Germany (Reuters) - Team Sky enjoyed a huge confidence boost from their impressive collective performance in Saturday’s opening Tour de France time trial, but they would be well advised to surrender the yellow jersey and the pressure that comes with it, three-time champion Greg LeMond told Reuters.
Geraint Thomas snatched the overall lead after a skilful ride on the wet streets of Duesseldorf as Sky finished with four riders in the top eight, with defending champion Chris Froome gaining time on all his rivals.
“For the riders it must be disappointing to see how strong Sky are,” American LeMond, who is on the Tour as an analyst for Eurosport, told Reuters.
Colombian Nairo Quintana, runner-up to Froome in 2013 and 2015, limited his losses to 36 seconds, but lost key Movistar team mate Alejandro Valverde, who abandoned after crashing into a safety barrier.
“Now if you’re Quintana you have no Valverde and you have to attack. I haven’t seen in the last couple of years anybody strong enough to drop Chris Froome,” added LeMond.
Almost all the top climbers behind Froome finished within seven seconds of each other -- from Australian Richie Porte, who lost 35 seconds, to Alberto Contador who lost 42.
“There could have been bigger differences but the weather limited the losses for the climbers,” noted LeMond.
“Every Tour de France is different but Sky got a big confidence booster today. It could be a race for second. But I think it’s good that they have the pressure.”
There is one way to release the pressure, however -- let another team assume the duties of controlling the race by not fighting to keep the yellow jersey.
“I was impressed by (sprint specialist) Marcel Kittel. I think he is going for the yellow jersey and if Sky are smart they are not going to control it -- let the sprinters take over. That is what I would do,” said LeMond.
Kittel ended up 16 seconds behind Thomas on Saturday, and with 10 seconds of time bonus for Sunday’s stage winner, the ride to Liege could see the German claim the lead if Thomas lets the sprinters’ teams ride away in the final straight.
“Some of those flat stages you’re not going to want to follow those crazy sprinters,” added LeMond. “I think Marcel is going to try to focus on the yellow jersey.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neville Dalton