Pau - With a change of terrain, a hike in temperature and recalibrating of
the standings, one thing is remaining consistent: Chris Froome is wearing
The Tour de France circus trekked 730km from Brittany to the foot of the
Pyrenees overnight from Sunday to Monday.
And while the terrain will change form undulating, breezy and coolish, the
next few days in the south-west of France will bring dizzying peaks, stifling
heat and jagged, barren passes at high elevation.
Yet 2013 Tour champion Chris Froome will start the next phase of the Tour in
yellow having once again stamped his authority on his 'fantastic four' rivals
in Sunday's team timetrial.
Monday is a rest day on the Tour but with half the country to traverse and
muscles to keep supple, riders will still be out on the roads, preparing for
Tuesday's first mountain stage of this year's race.
"It's up to other teams to put pressure on us, this is the heart of the
race now," said Froome.
"All the action's going to be happening now, we're going to see who's
done their homework and who's going to do what in the mountains.
"This is where the real race for the yellow jersey starts."
The 167km stage 10 from Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint Martin will take on three
category four climbs suited to a breakaway before the final 15.3km ascent to
the finish, with an average gradient of 7.4 percent.
From that moment on, the Tour will largely be played out at high altitude,
with summit finishes on stage 12 at Plateau de Beille, La Toussuire on Stage 19
and a day later on the penultimate stage to Alpe d'Huez.
Ahead of the riders lie seven 'hors categorie' and seven first category
climbs, including monsters such as the Tourmalet, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col
de Glandon and Telegraphe.
There are also three other stages with punchy little uphill finishes at
Cauterets, Mende and Pra-Loup following mountainous stages, meaning chances
will be aplenty to make a difference.
But so far, Froome has had things all his own way and says his will be a
defensive role now as he enjoys leads of 1min 03sec to 2min 22sec over his main
rivals Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali respectively - with Nairo Quintana
sandwiched in between at 1min 59sec.
Nibali may be the reigning champion and Contador a two-time Tour winner, yet
it is Quintana that Froome fears most now the high mountains are here.
"A lot of people expected Vincenzo to make up a lot of time on other
rivals in this first week, as opposed to Nairo where people expect him to make
his time in the mountains," added Froome.
"I'd definitely say that I expect Nairo will be the guy to look out for
more than Vincenzo in this next stage of the race."