The third stage of the Tour of the Alps saw the sort of aggressive tactics that one might expect to see at the Giro d’Italia, and that’s exactly why Team Sky chose this race as Chris Froome’s final preparation for May’s Grand Tour.
After Tuesday’s stage finish to Alpe di Pampeago failed to prove decisive in the general classification, Team Sky sports director Nicolas Portal predicted the sort of aggressive racing that the Tour of the Alps produced on stage three: perfect preparation for the Giro d’Italia.
“It will be hard to gain time on the climbs [through the rest of the Tour of the Alps] because no one was able to gain any time on the climb to Pampeago, and there are no harder climbs than that in this race.
“If there are changes in the GC then it will be because there are some interesting tactics, like a downhill attack. It’s a very tactical race, exactly like at the Giro.
“You can plan for this sort of stuff a little bit, but mainly you just need to do it on the spur of the moment in the race. When you smell blood, you’ve got to be ready and you’ve got to go for it.”
On stage three of the Tour of the Alps it was Thibaut Pinot who smelled blood, attacking on the Mendelpass with more than 50km to go, taking fifth place overall Domenico Pozzovivo with him and leaving Astana and Team Sky to chase behind.
At one point that group held a lead of more than a minute over the peloton, but hard work by the Astana and Team Sky domestiques closed the gap on the Gampenpass, before Chris Froome and Miguel Angel Lopez took things into their own hands.
Both men led the chase on the upper parts of the climb, but it was Froome who attacked the descent to neutralise Pinot’s attack after more than 30km.
In the end Ben O’Connor was able to jump away and take the stage win, while Froome finished in sixth place to find himself 16 seconds back in the general classification after Pinot moved into the race lead courtesy of Ivan Sosa’s crash and a handful of bonus seconds.
However for Froome and Team Sky the Tour of the Alps is all about preparation for the Giro d’Italia which starts in Jerusalem on May 4, with the team treating the race as a dress rehearsal for the Grand Tour as much as they are chasing overall victory itself.
“It’s been a real test and the team is riding well,” Portal continued. “Astana have brought a strong team here, but they are racing differently from us.
“What we are trying to do is focus on ourselves and think as if these are Giro stages, thinking about how we will ride them.
“Take the stage to Alpe di Pampeago, that was the queen stage of the race and of course it is important to do well, but then after the stage we just focused on our own performance and what we can do better.”
With the Giro and it’s giant mountain stages in mind – some of which are more than 200km in length – it’s no surprise that the 138.3km of Wednesday’s stage was not quite enough for Froome, as he climbed back onto his bike after the stage and completed an extra hour or two of riding back to the team’s hotel.