Froome, Sky loom as Le Tour hits altitude
FRENCHMAN Julian Alaphilippe has celebrated his first Tour de France stage win as Team Sky made an early statement of intent on the first mountain day of the race.
Alaphilippe produced arguably the best ride of his career, attacking solo from a 21-man breakaway and staying away for 30km and two mountains to take an emphatic victory in Le Grand-Bornand.
The 26-year-old slumped against a barrier at the finish, overcome with emotion.
"It's hard to get my head around it. There's a lot of emotion, because winning at the Tour is not easy. I came close in my first Tour two years ago, and to win in this way, it's amazing," Alaphilippe said.
"I don't even have the words ... I'm just thinking about my family. I'm happy to make them happy. I'm happy for myself as well.
"I was disappointed on the Mur de Bretagne (Stage 6), it suited me well, but it didn't go exactly to plan. I lost to stronger riders, simple as that, the legs weren't as good as I'd hoped.
"But to bounce back like that is the perfect response."
Greg Van Avermaet's gutsy performance saw him finish fourth to not only retain - but extend - his yellow jersey lead to 2min 22sec.
But the Belgian classics specialist knows he won't be wearing yellow on Wednesday night.
"I think this was the maximum. I went really deep today. Tomorrow is really a climber's stage, it's really short and it will be super hard to keep it," Van Avermaet said.
"I have really no intention of trying. This was the day maybe I could keep it, but the next it will be over."
Behind Alaphilippe and Van Avermaet, the anticipated general classification fireworks never eventuated.
There were five classified climbs and a first visit to the gravel-topped plateau des Glieres, but a descent towards the finish seemed to discourage any attacks from the overall contenders.
The fact this was the first in a mountain trilogy in the Alps may also have resulted in most opting to play the lone game.
But Team Sky's pace-setting for much of the day, particularly the fierce tempo they set to the top of the Col de la Colombiere with 14.5km remaining, was enough to drop Bob Jungles and Rigoberto Uran.
Uran's Tour is now effectively over. Last year's runner-up is now more than seven minutes down on the general classification and is riding in pain after a crash in the cobbled Stage 9.
Chris Froome punctured on the gravel section atop the plateau des Glieres and then had two more stops for bike changes, but smoothly made his way back to the peloton.
It was only shadow boxing, but already Sky have that familiar menacing look about them.
"We said in the meeting that we wouldn't be surprised if (Van Avermaet) went in the break, and, yeah, no disrespect, but he's not going to win the Tour," Sky's Geraint Thomas said.
"He's not a threat to 'Froomey' or the big GC guys, so for him to get three minutes is not the end of the world. We just controlled it nicely. We were expecting a few attacks on the last climb, but nobody really went. Dan (Martin) did over the top, but that was it really."
Astana's Danish threat Jakob Fuglsang said Sky were again looming large.
"Our tactic was ... to see how the other guys are feeling, what their legs look like and what Sky would do with their tactics in the race together with Movistar also," Fuglsang said.
"But in the end it was clear Sky were the strongest. Movistar had the three captains there, and even (Alejandro) Valverde he suffered a bit over the top. So it looks like the positions there are getting a little more clear.
"They are the strongest team, for now at least."
Wednesday's Stage 11 represents the first true summit finish of this year's race and at only 108.5km, promises to be explosive.
Despite being a short stage, the riders will be climbing from the gun and will take in four monster climbs on a day where they're either going up or down.