Tour de France 2020

Froome surprised by Nibali’s early time losses

The Tour leader thought 2014 champ Vincenzo Nibali would be taking time so far, not losing it, and he's got an eye on Tejay van Garderen

PLUMELEC, France (VN) — David Brailsford stood outside Sky’s team bus after the team time trial in Plumelec, thought for a minute, and then said: ‘The word is ‘composed.'”

“That’s how Chris [Froome] has been in this race. He’s been composed from the start.”

It’s been a tough nine days, the Team Sky boss conceded, and his riders could do with a good rest day.

“But we are pretty happy going into the first mountain days,” he added.

Sky raced to second place in the stage-9 team time trial to Brittany’s small village of Plumelec, one second behind BMC Racing with American leader Tejay van Garderen.

Geraint Thomas, Richie Porte, Leopold König and Nicolas Roche powered to the line with Froome, who lost one second to van Garderen but put time into all his other rivals and kept the yellow jersey.

Colombian Nairo Quintana and his Movistar team held Froome at three seconds. Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) were not as fortunate. They lost 27 and 34 seconds, respectively, to Froome.

As with every other day save for the opening time trial, Froome came out on top. He now leads the overall by 12 seconds over van Garderen, 1:03 on Contador, 1:59 on Quintana, and 2:22 on Nibali.

“We really can’t be too disappointed with that, within a second of BMC,” Froome said. “It would have been fantastic to get a stage win, but more importantly, we kept the yellow jersey and put more time into our rivals.”

Froome spoke before boarding an airplane with the rest of the peloton for the 730km journey south to Pau at the base of the Pyrenees. The Tour has 12 days remaining, mostly ones with high mountain passes in the Pyrenees and in the Alps to the east.

To this point, Froome said, “The race has gone better than any of us has imagined. It’s one thing not to lose time, but actually gain substantially amounts of time has put us in a great position.

“For the next phase, we will talk about it tomorrow on the rest day, but the pressure is not on my shoulders to make the race, it’s on the others to ride.”

Ahead of the race, journalists talked mostly about the “Fab Four” — Froome, Quintana, Contador, and 2014 winner Nibali, all grand-tour winners. On Sunday, Froome wondered about Nibali’s form, but complimented van Garderen, who had recorded two fifth-place overall finishes so far in the Tour.

“If I’m completely honest, I thought [Nibali] was going to be the one guy from the main contenders who would gain time in this first phase of the race. I’ve got to admit, I am quite surprised he’s lost so much time already,” Froome said.

“Tejay, I’ve said from the beginning of the race, is definitely someone to look out for, given that also in the Dauphiné he was right up there in the climbs. I think we can expect something similar in the Tour.”

Froome had back problems and fell sick before the 2014 Tour, where he crashed and left in day five. This spring has been smoother and also quieter than in 2013, when he went on to win the Tour. He won the Ruta del Sol and the Critérium du Dauphiné, but spent few days in the leader’s jersey, and Brailsford admitted that not having the stress of the leader’s jersey so often could help.

“But from the beginning,” Brailsford said, “our target has been to have Chris strong in the final week.”

This “composed” Froome appears on target for the coming mountains and perhaps a second title in the Tour de France.