Bergerac - Chris Froome is as strong as ever, according to his principal Tour de France rival Fabio Aru.
Questions have been asked of Froome's form this year as for the first time since he started dominating the world's greatest bike race, he came into the Tour without a stage race victory all season.
And although he holds the race leader's yellow jersey after nine stages, his lead over Aru is a slender 18 seconds and he has yet to win a stage or strike a decisive blow to his rivals -- unlike previous years.
But Aru denied the 2016 Froome is any weaker than before.
"Certainly he's shown himself to be as strong as before, he has the yellow jersey -- that's the answer."
But Aru suggested he and Astana team-mate Jakob Fuglsang would still be looking to attack Froome.
"As always we've got maximum respect (for Froome) but we'll stick to our tactic as always," he added.
Astana have been the only team to really attack Froome so far, with Aru riding away to win the fifth stage at La Planche des Belles Filles last Wednesday, while Fuglsang got clear on Sunday's final climb, the Mont du Chat, before being pegged back just before the summit.
But their strong showing has left them second and fifth on the standings, and they're the only team with two riders fighting for overall victory.
That was something they used to great affect during last month's week-long Criterium du Dauphine, which Fuglsang won as Froome finished fourth and Aru fifth.
"We hope we can use it as an advantage, it's been our idea from the beginning," said Fuglsang, who is 1min 37sec back from Froome.
"Also from what we saw in the Dauphine, it was an advantage."
At La Planche de Belles Filles, Froome had chosen not to follow Aru's attack but said afterwards he would have to watch the Italian more closely from then on.
He did that on Sunday but then let Fuglsang, who struggled on the Planche des Belles Filles where he'd lost more than a minute to the favourites, get away.
"Of course, Froome can't go after everybody," said the Dane.
"I'm still at a distance in the GC (standings), he will not concern (himself) about me yet.
"We will see, we have to play it smart.
"Of course he will follow Fabio or (third-placed Romain) Bardet, or whoever is close to him in GC."
On Sunday, the Astana duo seemed to concentrate on putting time into rivals who'd been dropped on the final climb while reeling in Bardet, who had attacked on the descent down to the finish into Chambery, rather than look to put Froome into difficulty.
It seemed to be a tactic designed more at fighting for the minor places than competing for top spot.
"The tactic was to gain as much time as possible on those behind," said Aru.
"Behind there were very strong guys like (Nairo) Quintana, (Dan) Martin, even (Alberto) Contador."
Fuglsang admitted he was delighted with his current position but said his Dauphine experience had taught him not to rule out aiming higher.
"When we started the last stage in the Dauphine I would've been more than happy with my third place, but I ended up winning the Dauphine because of our tactics and the way the race was ridden," he said.
"Of course I'm happy now with fifth place. If I was asked before the start in Dusseldorf if I'd sign for fifth, I would have.
"But we'll have to see how things go. We're here to try to win the Tour -- Fabio is second, I'm fifth, we have a good team and the possibility to challenge Froome and the other guys in the top."