As has regularly been the case in races across Europe for the past month, Team Sky riders were all over the front of the first mountain stage of the Volta a Catalunya to the Pyrenean resort of La Molina.
Although victory eluded them, the whittling down of contenders brought about by Sky’s pace-setting on the final ascent resulted in Geraint Thomas moving up to third, 44 seconds behind new leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing), with Chris Froome another five seconds down in fifth.
Speaking in the gathering chill as he warmed down, Froome admitted to a degree of surprise at being so well placed after two key stages, the second day’s long team time trial and the summit finish at La Molina, where he has struggled in the past.
Although he admits he’s not at the level of teammate Geraint Thomas, Froome believes he’s already got good reason to be pleased with his Volta showing.
“I think I am a little ahead of where I was last year. I’ve never really been up there in Catalunya before, so for me to be up there in the top-10 on GC right now, especially on this climb where I’ve never really gone well, is pleasing,” said the Sky team leader, who has never finished in the top five at the Catalan stage race.
“I’ve always lost a chunk of time at this finish, so I’m quite happy with my first WorldTour outing since last year’s Vuelta,” he continued.
“It’s a bit of a shock to the system, but it’s what I need to get back into my rhythm.”
While recognising that the GC may already be out of reach – “given the time trial we’ve definitely got a lot of time to make up,” he said – Froome affirmed Sky’s intention to apply pressure all the way to the finish in Barcelona on Sunday.
“We’ve got a couple of cards to play in myself and Geraint. G’s going fantastically well here in his build-up to the Giro,” he said.
Looking ahead, he believes the second-category ascent 15km from the finish of stage four might be a launchpad for attacks, but sees stage five’s summit finish at Lo Port above Tortosa as the key one.
“I suspect Friday is going to be the decisive stage. I imagine guys like [Alberto] Contador and [Alejandro] Valverde will be looking to make up more time then. I’m sure guys will try tomorrow but I think Friday will be more decisive” said Froome, before heading quickly into the warmth of the Sky bus.