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Froome singles out van Garderen as GC threat

FOUGERES, France (VN) — Chris Froome (Sky) is back in the maillot jaune, and quickly singled out Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) as one of his top rivals for overall victory at the Tour de France.

Froome, back in the yellow tunic following the painful exit of Etixx-Quick-Step’s Tony Martin, indicated that van Garderen is very much on his radar as the Tour nears the end of a nervous first week of racing.

When asked to size up his top rivals, van Garderen was the first name Froome mentioned as he rattled off his most dangerous opponents.

“If I have to assess most of my rivals at the moment, Tejay [van Garderen] is on great form,” Froome said. “He’s only a few seconds back, and he’s ridden really well all week.”

Those comments reveal that Froome is taking van Garderen’s hovering presence very seriously. In June, Froome had to dig deep to overcome van Garderen at the Critérium du Dauphiné, beating back the American by just 10 seconds.

Van Garderen wasn’t a five-star favorite at the start Saturday in Utrecht, but he’s ridden through a near flawless week, only losing time to Froome up the Mur de Huy hilltop finale in stage 3.

If van Garderen can stay close up the short but steep uphill finish waiting Saturday at the Mur de Bretagne, there is a chance BMC could take time on Sky in Sunday’s team time trial and push van Garderen into the yellow jersey going into Monday’s rest day. BMC is the reigning world champion in the team time trial discipline.

That’s certainly on everyone’s minds inside the BMC Racing bus, but no one’s going to admit that publicly. The mantra remains, “one day at a time,” and van Garderen is only focused on getting through Saturday’s stage without any setbacks.

“We have big focus on the team time trial, and we have a good chance with Greg [Van Avermaet] tomorrow,” van Garderen said Friday at the finish. “Other than that, we just want to hold the position we have now.”

That “position” is enviable by any measure, and Froome was quick to single out van Garderen as a legitimate GC threat.

The 2013 Tour winner also rattled through the others of the ‘Fab Four.’ He mentioned Nairo Quintana (Movistar) next, saying, “He’s lost a lot of time already, and that’s a big blow for him, but we do expect him to be there in the mountains. We’ll see to what extent.”

On Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), he said, “One of the big questions is how fresh he will be after the Giro, what he’ll be like in the mountains.” And finally, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), he said, “We’ll see how he climbs. He’s been fine this first week.”

Back in yellow

Froome looked happy to be back in yellow. As Sky boss Dave Brailsford told VeloNews, “It’s always better to be ahead than behind, even if it’s only a few seconds.”

In Friday’s transition stage, the Tour raced without a yellow jersey. Although Martin broke his clavicle and underwent surgery Friday, he finished Thursday’s stage, and was not officially out of the race until he failed to sign in ahead of the start in Livarot. That meant Froome did not claim the yellow jersey until he safely crossed the line behind stage-winner Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step) in Fougeres.

Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) slotted into second overall, now 11 seconds behind Froome, but van Garderen remains the closest legitimate GC threat, just 13 seconds back, now third overall.

Froome didn’t mention Rigoberto Urán (Etixx-Quick-Step), now sixth at 34 seconds back, but Contador remains within striking distance at 36 seconds back. Nibali is 12th at 1:38 back, while Quintana is 16th at 1:56 in arrears.

Froome said he didn’t expect big differences up the Mur de Bretagne, but said there could be gaps between the favorites. Sunday’s team time trial will present the next major challenge for the overall challengers.

“We’ve got to get through tomorrow, but we’ve got a really strong team here, especially for that parcours,” Froome said of the TTT. “It’s very testing. I think we’re up for it, I think we’ll be up there with the best in the team time trial.”

More confidence for Froome

Before the start of the stage, Brailsford told VeloNews that Froome is carrying more confidence through this Tour.

“He’s almost made it through this first week, and that was very important,” Brailsford said. “Chris [Froome] takes a lot of confidence from that. The team has done a great job protecting him. Once we get to the mountains, then we can see where everyone stands.”

Froome, too, said the first week of the 2015 Tour couldn’t have gone better, especially when contrasted to his early exit in 2014.

“Given what happened last year, it was a big thing, especially mentally, that I have that attitude, that I wanted to race at the front, and get through the first part without any major issues,” Froome said. “Also, having the classics guys around me, G [Geraint Thomas], Ian [Stannard], and Luke [Rowe], those guys are specialists, that’s given me a lot of confidence, and it makes my job a lot easier.”

Soon enough, the Tour will turn out of the dangers of the hills of Northern France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and climb into the Pyrénées and Alps. It’s clear that Froome will be keeping a very close eye on van Garderen.

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