Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) won the battle with fellow Frenchman Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) to win the Queen stage of the Criterium di Dauphine in Meribel, as Chris Froome and his Team Sky teammates rode a tactical race in the Alpine mountains before gaining a handful of seconds on their rivals with a final surge to the line.
Pinot and Bardet were part of a front group that formed over the massive Col de la Madeleine. They opened a gap of 3:00 on Froome but his Team Sky teammates Wout Poels, Sergio Henao and Mikel Landa did an excellent job and gradually closed the gap before Froome used his late speed to bring it down to close to a minute.
In the final kilometre Froome surged away from Richie Porte (BMC) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff) with Dan Martin (Etixx-QuickStep). It was a late, short effort on the 12km climb to the finish but allowed Froome to gain a handful of seconds on his closest rivals. However Bardet is now also a threat to Froome’s yellow jersey with one final mountain stage left to race. Porte is second overall at 21 seconds, with Bardet third at the same time. Martin moved up to fourth at 30 seconds, with Contador slipping to fifth at 35 seconds. Sunday’s final and decisive stage is from Le Pont de Claix near Grenoble to Superdévoluy. It is a tough final day with six categorised climbs.
“I’ve been put under pressure but the guys were super controlled. I really owe it all to my teammates today, each of every one of them emptied themselves for me to keep this jersey,” Froome acknowledged.
“The pressure started when Alberto attacked on the Madeleine. We had to pull him back otherwise we’d be in trouble. And then even in the finale with Bardet up front. At one stage he was going to get the yellow so my guys had to get that gap down. Then Dan Martin went to the line for third place. I just did everything I could to try and follow him. I was surprised to see there was a bit of a gap to Richie and Alberto.”
“I definitely needed those extra seconds ahead of tomorrow. It would be amazing to win the Dauphiné for the third time, especially in the build up to the Tour de France. But I don’t take anything for granted. If tomorrow is anything like today, it’s gonna be a really tough stage tomorrow again.”
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