Sky lost the yellow jersey when the Critérium du Dauphiné climbed the Col de la Gueulaz yesterday but can take many positives away from the day. Chris Froome still appears one of the two strongest with Tinkoff-Saxo’s Alberto Contador heading towards the Tour de France and Richie Porte is back to best.
“Saxo Bank’s riders took it up for a couple of K [yesterday] and blew all of their guys bar one so that lead’s not going to be easy for them to defend,” Porte told Cycling Weekly. “We’ve defended the whole week. They had a little bit of a free ride.”
The French stage race ends today with a 5.9-kilometre climb up to one of Courchevel’s ski resorts and offers a chance for Froome to strike back. If he recovered enough from his tumble in the closing kilometres on Friday, it could be easier for him to overtake Contador.
On Friday, Froome lost control of his bike on a narrow and twisty road leading to the finish in Poisy. He finished with his left leg, elbow, hip and back bloody and rode yesterday in bandages.
“It’s not ideal having a queen stage [after he crashed], but if anything, Chris is an absolute fighter, he’s one of the toughest guys in the peloton,” Porte said.
“He obviously suffered from the crash because he was dropping Alberto at the start of the week. I could tell on the [team two-way] radio that he wasn’t his usual self.
“He still placed seventh on the stage and that’s an impressive ride. Coming into the Tour, it’s good to see the team all step up like that.”
Porte stepped up after stomach problems ruined his early season. Sky had given him the green light over the winter to lead its Giro d’Italia squad but had to change plans after abandoned the Tirreno-Adriatico and Volta a Catalunya stage races. Saturday’s stage up the Col de la Gueulaz showed, however, that he is back at his best for the Tour de France.
“I had one bad day [on Monday to Col du Béal] and it’s just funny that everyone questions where my form is,” Porte said. “I’m happy where I’m at. I still have a few weeks until the Tour and so I have a little bit of time to sharpen up. I felt much better day by day, and felt much better with more racing in my legs.”
Porte was Froome’s last man on the climb yesterday. Vasil Kiryienka worked early work, Geraint Thomas and David Lopez took over and Porte and Mikel Nieve remained when all of Froome’s rivals were without help. In Froome’s words, it was “a strong team performance and a really good test” ahead of the Tour de France.