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Time for reigning three-time Tour de France winner...

Froome in driver’s seat for first mountain test

Despite controversial expulsion of Peter Sagan, the Tour rolls on with defending champ Chris Froome poised for La Planche de Belles Filles.

VITTEL, France (VN) — Despite the controversial expulsion of Peter Sagan, the Tour de France rolls on.

Up next: La Planche de Belles Filles, the first mountain squirmish of the 2017 Tour de France. It’s not a major climb, but in a Tour route short on vertical, it could have major implications on who wins the yellow jersey in Paris.

What will happen? Another strong day by Team Sky, and rivals could start looking fondly at the podium. A wobble by Chris Froome, however, will have the opposite effect.

The expectations couldn’t be higher. The main protagonists are ready to fire.

“I’m super motivated for tomorrow,” said BMC’s Richie Porte. “I expect it to be absolutely full gas. It’s the first big test of the Tour de France in 2017.”

All eyes are on Team Sky. The squad is hot out of the gate in its best start in franchise history, and some are even speculating that they can hold the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.

Geraint Thomas crashed in Tuesday’s frenetic finale, but team captain Chris Froome steered clear of trouble. At just 12 seconds back behind Thomas, no one’s guessing what Froome will do on the finale.

“Froome is a rider who likes to attack on the first mountain summit,” said Trek-Segafredo’s Alberto Contador. “We all know he has a strong team around him. If he’s strong, he will try to attack.”

So what can we expect? Fireworks, yes, because rivals have to attack Sky. But the climb is only six kilometers long. There is only so much that can happen.

Two key factors to consider. First, the peloton is fresh. This is only stage 5, very early for such a decisive climb, so everyone will be sharp. And two, Sky is in the driver’s seat. Rivals will have to take it to Froome, and he can react.

“I think we will probably ride more of a defensive race tomorrow, and try to look after our positions,” Froome said. “It’s up to the other teams to go on the offensive tomorrow.”

Froome, however, will be returning to familiar ground. In 2012, he won his first Tour stage here, upstaging his then-boss Bradley Wiggins, and putting the world on notice. Flash forward five years, and he’s now the boss.

Froome won’t be nostalgic Wednesday, but he’s playing it cool.

“I don’t see any major time losses or gains tomorrow,” Froome said. “It’s a good test and a good sign of where everyone is at. I don’t really see more than more than 20 or 30 seconds between the main GC rivals.”

It’s not hard to imagine Froome’s rivals trying to take it to him early, with Froome patiently marking the wheels, and then coming over the top to gap them.

If he can’t manage to do that, then we might have a race on our hands. If he does, well, it could be another Tour with a similar ending.