Is Chris Froome poised for an attack on Mont Ventoux?

He's done it before, and rival team bosses think defending champion Froome could be saving himself for a crucial couple of days to Ventoux and the following day's time trial

Chris Froome‘s form remains an uncertainty for teams after the first week and the first three mountain days in the Tour de France.

When the race re-started on Tuesday after a rest day, two days before an expected showdown on Mont Ventoux, he led with only 16 seconds on Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange).

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Team Sky’s star, winner of the 2013 and 2015 editions, sits on top of a tightly packed GCafter nine stages. Nine riders are within one minute of the lead, which he mostly established thanks to Froome’s daredevil descent off the Col de Peyresourde on Saturday.

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“It could be that Sky wants him [Froome] to spend as little energy as possible so that he can have a strong third week,” Giuseppe Martinelli, Astana team manager told Cycling Weekly. “I’m 90% sure that the Tour will be decided in the Ventoux/TT combination.

“The climb will remain in the legs and many will pay in the time trial the next day. Froome, I think, is thinking about those days.”

“Froome has a lower level [this year] and maybe Quintana, as well,” added Paolo Slongo, coach at team Astana with Fabio Aru. “I’m not sure what he’s thinking with his attacks. They are going a little slower than in the previous Tours, so that’s allowing those behind them to stay with them.

“I don’t know if this level is lower, but that’s what I see. Maybe he has in his head an attack on Mont Ventoux. How it is, though, his level seems lower.”

Watch: Tour de France 2016 preview: Mont Ventoux

Froome and Nairo Quintana (Movistar), fourth overall at 23 seconds, mostly followed when Dan Martin (Etixx–Quick-Step), Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Yates attacked on the rain-soaked Arcalís ascent on Sunday.

“I don’t think that there’s any reason to believe that he’s not the same as in the other years,” Movistar team manager, Eusebio Unzué said. “He impressed me the other day when he was able to control all the different attacks, eight or 10 of those. It’s easier to attack and ride away than what he did.”

“I don’t know the numbers, but he’s equally as strong as in other years, but it’s just that the other guys came up to his level,” explained Tinkoff Sports Director Sean Yates. “We can’t sit back and ride the Sky train year after year, we have to up the game.

“Froome is certainly not going any worse than he has gone in the past. The other guys have just upped their game. Quintana is progressing, Dan Martin is progressing, Yates, Bardet, Pinot…”

Froome and the Tour’s peloton will face their next serious test on Thursday with the 15.7km summit finish up Mont Ventoux. The next day, they switch bikes and race a 37.5km time trial to La Caverne du Pont-d’Arc.