Mr-de-Bretagne - While all the talk at the Tour de France has been of the
overall battle between the 'fantastic four', current leader Chris Froome
admitted he's been impressed by outsider Tejay Van Garderen.
Froome, the 2013 champion, will go into Sunday's team time-trial wearing the
yellow jersey with a healthy advantage over the rest of the fantastic four.
Two-time former winner Alberto Contador is seventh at 36sec, reigning
champion Vincenzo Nibali lost another 10sec to Froome on Saturday's eighth
stage from Rennes to Mur de Bretagne and sits 13th at 1min 48sec, while 2014
Giro d'Italia winner Nairo Quintana has 1min 56sec to make up and is currently
down in 16th.
But American Van Garderen is third overall at just 13sec and his BMC team
are the reigning world time-trial champions.
He also ran Froome close at last month's week-long Tour warm-up event, the
Criterium du Dauphine.
"I really do think Tejay's ridden a very impressive race up until now.
It wasn't long ago, in the Dauphine, we were battling it out for the leader's
jersey. There wasn't much between us," said Froome.
"I believe he's in great condition and time will tell once we get into
the high mountains in the Pyrenees. But I definitely expect him to be up there,
he's got a strong team around him and has ridden a great race."
The first big test of this year's Tour will come in Tuesday's first summit
finish in the Pyrenees with a final 15.3km climb at an average 7.4 percent
gradient up to La Pierre-Saint Martin.
And although he has a buffer to his fantastic four rivals, Froome isn't
taking any of them lightly, and now wants to add another name to the list.
"I think we definitely need to include Tejay in that equation but from
those other three I do expect Nairo will be very strong up in the climbs.
"But he's lost a substantial amount of time already so he's going to
have to try and make that time up again.
"Alberto, I don't think you can every write him off. As we've seen time
and time again he doesn't give up til the race is over.
"I guess we'll have to see how Vincenzo goes up the long climbs, it
hasn't been a great start for him but things can change."
With Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo teammate Peter Sagan second overall at just
11sec, Froome knows he could lose the leader's yellow jersey on Sunday but he
says the most important thing in the 29km team time-trial will be the
management of effort and resources.
"The team time-trial tomorrow (Sunday) is going to be a very decisive
stage in terms of the general classification.
"It's a very tricky team time-trial given it's very undulating.
"You need five riders to get up that final climb together. It's going
to make it quite tough for a lot of teams and I do expect quite substantial
time differences between the top teams and teams who don't coordinate so
Van Garderen, who was fifth overall in 2012 and again last year, admitted he
can see himself donning yellow on Sunday night but didn't want to tempt fate.
"With the team I have and what they've done so far, I'm pretty
confident," said the 26-year-old.
"There's always a chance, I don't want to jinx myself thinking about it
too much, we're just going to go out there and ride as hard as we can.
"We've got four world champions in that discipline on this team so
we'll put out the best performance we can."