Chris Froome and Team Sky put in a strong climbing performance to win stage seven of the 2015 Critérium du Dauphiné on Saturday as his Tour de France rivals were left trailing behind the British rider.
Froome attacked in the finale of the tough mountains stage to take the victory, with American Tejay van Garderen placing second to reclaim the overall race lead from overnight leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who faded on the final climb. South African climber Louis Meintjes (MTN-Qhubeka) placed third.
Van Garderen now leads Froome by 18 seconds overall with one stage remaining in the French WorldTour race.
A large escape group formed after around 15 kilometres, and grew in size as the stage progressed, with as many as 26 involved at one point. The make-up of the group became fluid as they navigated the mountainous terrain, with riders getting dropped, forming chase groups and then rejoining the leaders.
Team Sky set the pace up the 11.3-kilometre climb of Col de la Croix Fry, which served to whittle down the size of the peloton and diminish the time advantage of the escape group. Nibali hung on in there.
British brothers Simon and Adam Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) were two of those initially dropped by Sky’s pace up the Col de la Croix Fry. Adam then paced Simon back up to the yellow jersey group, but was spent after his effort.
After the Col des Aravis, the 18-rider escape group had around a minute over the bunch. Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) and Riccardo Zoidl (Trek) attacked from the escape group on the descent, increasing their lead over Nibali/Froome’s group to three minutes. Sky maintained its position at the front of the peloton.
On the steep ascent of Côte des Amerands, the race split apart, with Nibali slipping off the back of the peloton. Peter Kennaugh and Wouter Poels stayed ahead of Froome at the front of the bunch, grinding out a steady pace as Nibali slipped further back.
Jonathan Castroviejo (Movistar) and Bartosz Huzarski (Bora-Argon 18) bridged to Navarro and Zoidl to make a quartet as they reached the foot of the final ascent. Castroviejo attacked, dropping all but Navarro.
Sky once again wound up the pace on the final climb, dropping Rui Costa (Lampre), Andrew Talansky (Cannondale-Garmin) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar). Froome attacked with 4km to go with van Garderen following, quickly catching and passing Navarro and Castroviejo.
Froome and van Garderen then worked together until the Sky leader attacked with 1.6 kilometres to go opening up a gap, but not enough to prevent van Garderen retaking the yellow jersey. Nibali came home 3-58 behind Froome, in 24th place, and fell out of the top 10.
Simon Yates finished 11th on the stage and is fifth overall, retaining his best young rider jersey.
Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN-Qhubeka) continued his quest for the King of the Mountains title, putting himself into the escape group and cresting the opening four categorised climbs first to gain an unbeatable lead in the classification.
If Teklehaimanot completes the race on Sunday, he will have taken MTN-Qhubeka’s first WorldTour race classification – a milestone for the South African team.
Sunday sees the riders tackle the final stage of the 2015 Critérium du Dauphiné, another testing day that finishes with an ascent to the line in Modane Valfréjus.
Critérium du Dauphiné 2015, stage seven: Montmélian to Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc, 155km
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky
2. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing at 17 secs
3. Louis Meintjes (RSA) MTN-Qhubeka at 41 secs
4. Beñat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar at same time
5. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 54 secs
6. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r at 1-08
7. Alexis Vuillermoz (Fra) Ag2r at 1-15
8. Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale-Garmin at 1-25
9. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at 1-34
10. Daniel Navarro (Spa) Cofidis at 1-45
11. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at 1-47
24. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 3-58
Overall results after stage seven
1. Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing
2. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 18 secs
3. Beñat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar at 45 secs
4. Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida at 1-10
5. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at 1-29
6. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 1-39
7. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r at 1-45
8. Daniel Martin (Irl) Cannondale-Garmin at 2-29
9. Andrew Talansky (USA) Cannondale-Garmin at 2-39
10. Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Katusha at 2-46
11. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 3-05
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