TARBES, France (AFP) — Chris Froome insisted he will ride defensively as the Tour de France enters the Pyrénées on Tuesday.
Before the Grand Boucle began, Froome’s Sky manager Dave Brailsford claimed the squad would be more proactive than in the past.
But coming into Tuesday’s 167-kilometer 10th stage from Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint Martin in the leader’s yellow jersey, Froome said it is up to the others to attack him — not the other way around.
He hasn’t ruled out making a move on the 15.3km finishing climb, however, which carries an average gradient of 7.4 percent.
“If the opportunities are there to take more time, of course I’ll go for it, but I’m in an extremely privileged position at the moment and wouldn’t want to jeopardize that,” Froome said.
Of his main rivals, Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) — the revelation of the Tour so far — is at 12 seconds back, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is 1:03 behind, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is 1:59 adrift, and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is 2:22 back.
Froome said it’s vital to get off to a good start in the mountains, particularly following a rest day, to set the tone for the rest of the race.
“It’s quite a key stage [on Tuesday], it’s not as hard as other mountain days coming up but it’s the first mountaintop finish and everyone’s going to be looking at this as a gauge to how things will go the next two weeks,” the 2013 champion said.
“It’s a very important stage and I’m very grateful to be in the position I’m in now, to not be trying to make up time on someone else.
“I’m in the position now where I can just ride toward the front of the race and it’s for the other GC contenders now to put in their attacks, put in their moves, and show their cards.”
Ominously for Froome’s rivals, the 30-year-old Kenyan-born Brit said he is only just starting to hit his form, unlike his dominant victory two years ago where he was on fire from the start but struggled a touch toward the end.
“I’m in a quite different position to how I was two years ago,” he said.
“I came into the race extremely ready two years ago when I won pretty much every race building into the Tour and I did feel once I got past the halfway mark in the 2013 Tour that I was almost just hanging on to the finish.
“Whereas this year I feel as if I’ve come in a lot fresher, a lot more mentally prepared and I feel as if I’m getting stronger in this year’s race.”
The big disappointment so far has been reigning champion Nibali, but the “Shark of Messina” insists he will find his form, starting Tuesday.
“I hope we’ll see the true Nibali now. I had a bit of pain in my back after my crash [on Thursday] but I’m looking forwards,” Nibali said.
“So far I haven’t felt like I did last year but I hope that will change starting from [Tuesday].
“I’m not beaten!”