TEAM SKY Defend Lead In Romandie
The team hit the front in numbers on the 176.4-kilometre test and fended off a number of attacks to ensure a bunch finish and protect the race lead.
Chris Sutton made it over the tough final climb but the Australian found himself boxed on an incredibly tight and technical run-in as the sprinters fought it out.
Gianni Meersman (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) came out on top in Renens in a hectic sprint, the Belgian holding off Giacomo Nizzolo (RadioShack-Leopard) and Roberto Ferrari (Lampre-Merida) at the line.
Froome finished safely in the pack to maintain his six-second lead over Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp), the Brit having carved out that advantage with a superb victory in the opening prologue.
On the front foot
After the stage race leader Froome was happy with how the team approached the stage and to have made it through a tricky final few kilometres.
“It was a good solid start from the team today,” he said. “We started off in total control of the race. Even when the attacks came on the final climbs the guys just stayed calm and we all stayed together. Josh [Edmondson] in particular and Gabba [Rasch] spent a lot of time on the front today. That was fantastic and the team rode really well.
“There was a lot of road furniture coming into the finish. The sprinter teams took it up coming into the final. The main thing for us was just to stay out of harm’s way and save the legs for what is coming up.”
The Swiss event represents more kilometres clocked up in the race lead for both Froome and the team, experience which Froome sees as a real benefit.
He added: “It’s really good to be in this position and getting used to being in this position now going forward.”
The first road stage proper got under way in Saint-Maurice and marked perhaps the only chance for the sprinters in the race.
Leaping to the defence of yellow Team Sky kept the day’s break on a short leash during the stage, the maximum gap to the trio of Julien Berard (AG2R-La Mondiale), David Veilleux (Europcar) and Garikoitz Bravo (Euskaltel-Euskadi) spinning out to little over three minutes.
Gabriel Rasch, Josh Edmondson and Pete Kennaugh took up the early pace-setting on the front to keep things in check, a train of Team Sky jerseys on the front mirroring scenes from 12 months earlier.
As expected the final second category climb of the day saw a number of attacks fire clear, a group of eight riders forming including Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Simon Spilak (Katusha) and Adriano Malori (Lampre-Merida) on the Col de Mollendruz.
The move was swiftly shut down by the men in black and blue as Vasil Kiryienka arrived on the front. Yet heading into the closing stages the dynamic shifted as the sprinters’ teams finally arrived at the head of affairs.
Jeremy Roy (FDJ) and Matthias Brandle (IAM Cycling) made a late bid for freedom but things soon came back together as Team Sky kept the pace high ahead of the inevitable sprint finish.
Sports Director Servais Knaven echoed the praise of Froome and detailed how the team set about defending yellow.
“The guys controlled things really well,” he confirmed. “Gabba and Josh rode for 120km and Josh was still with them in the peloton at the end. Everything was under control and perfect.
“Other riders started attacking towards the final but the team took it in their stride and covered everything. It was still a long way to the finish but the guys are strong so it was about not panicking and making sure we stayed together. That’s what we did.
“CJ went for the sprint but he was on his own and got a bit blocked in. We knew it was always going to be difficult for him without support. Luckily we came through without any crashes and flat tyres. It was a good day but we’ve got three hard days to come.”