Chris Froome expects his rivals for Tour de France victory to attack with increasing urgency after preserving his commanding lead on the first of four stages in the Alps.
The 30-year-old Team Sky leader successfully countered attacks from nearest challenger Nairo Quintana (Movistar) early and late on the 161-kilometres 17th stage from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup as German Simon Geschke (Giant-Alpecin) won.
“He’s running out of opportunities,” Froome said of Quintana. “There’s only three more stages left to race. They’re really tough stages.
“I’ve got to admit I was quite surprised to see him jumping around 50, 60km into the race today. A few of the guys going for it early. (Alejandro) Valverde also, (Alberto) Contador.”
Quintana tried to launch an early break, but Froome’s Team Sky squad hunted him down and when the Colombian climber twice accelerated on the concluding ascent to the small ski resort, Froome chased himself.
The Kenya-born Briton finished seven minutes 16 seconds behind Geschke on the same time as Quintana to preserve his advantage of 3mins 10secs ahead of Sunday’s conclusion in Paris.
It was the first of four stages in the Alps and Thursday’s 186.5km stage from Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is sure to provide another test.
Froome believes anyone attacking early on a stage is taking a big gamble.
“Attacking towards the beginning of a stage, that’s a pretty big risk,” he added.
“If you do get away you’re potentially going to spend 100km up the road, spending a lot of energy which could leave you in a deficit for the next stages.”
Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) lost more time after a crash on the challenging descent of the day’s penultimate climb, the Col d’Allos.
The Spaniard trailed in 2:17 behind Froome and Quintana as his bid for a Giro d’Italia-Tour double faded further. He moved fifth but is 6:40 behind.
Valverde, Quintana’s team-mate, conceded six seconds to Froome and the Colombian, but moved up to third overall after American Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) was forced to abandon due to illness.
That, coupled with Contador’s crash, saw Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) move up to fourth.
The cream of Britain’s pro cycling scene came to Sheffield last night as the city hosted the annual Sheffield Hallam Grand Prix, round five of the British Elite Circuit Series.
Victory in the evening’s final race went to New Zealander Tom Scully (Madison Genesis) who attacked with around 18 laps remaining and managed to make his bid for freedom stick.
The 25-year-old, who now lives in Derby, was hunted down by the might of One Pro Cycling and Pedal Heaven Racing Team, who had riders first and second in the overall Series.
But despite their efforts - and those of every other rider, Scully’s lead grew to more than a minute by the line outside the Town Hall on Pinstone Street, while Series leader Jon Mould (One Pro Cycling) had to settle for second and Andrew Hawdon – the Raleigh GAC rider – was third.
Rotherham pro Russell Downing (Cult Energy) had made several early attempts to get clear of the field, but every time he attacked he had other riders for company, and they were eventually pulled back.
But when Scully went the field didn’t react as he is no threat to the overall Series standings, but their pause cost them dear as the Kiwi powered to victory.