By Julien Pretot
TROYES, France (Reuters) – Team Sky have been having it easy on the Tour de France so far as other teams have been taking on the pressure of the race, according to three-times champion Greg LeMond.
With three flat stages on the menu in the opening six days of racing, sprinters’ teams have been controlling the breakaways while Richie Porte’s BMC Racing team pulled in front of the peloton in the first mountain stage looking to set up their leader for the win.
But Porte failed to deliver, beaten by Italian Fabio Aru, who signaled his ambitions at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, and Chris Froome is wearing the yellow jersey, 12 seconds ahead of team mate Geraint Thomas.
Aru is third 14 seconds off the pace while Porte, last year’s runner-up Romain Bardet, twice winner Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana trail Froome by at least 39 seconds.
“They’re getting a free ride, Sky,” LeMond, who is on the Tour as an analyst for Eurosport, said in a daily chat with Reuters.
“They’re racing smart. Let BMC do it, let the sprinters teams do it. They’re saving the team for the right time of the race. “They seem to make it work every year,” he added, referring to the fact that Sky have won four of the last five editions with Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and Froome in 2013, 15 and 16.
Sky, however, had better be ready for the remainder of the Tour as Aru appeared to be able to pierce their armor when he launched a blistering attack on Wednesday and rode solo to victory in the fifth stage.
“He’s not the only one (who will attack),” said LeMond, who won the Tour in 1986, 89 and 90.
“Don’t judge the first mountain stage. Especially in the first week of racing after four, five, six days, your body has like an adjustment period and some people in the fourth or fifth day have a little low and they come back.
“Quintana and Contador lost a little bit of time, Bardet was ready very well though. The hope is that you have riders still very close to him (when the race hits the decisive stages),” he explained.
“There is no big time trial for Chris to get that distance so it will open the race a little bit more.”
There is always the possibility, however, that Froome will hammer his rivals with one big blow like he did in the ascent to La Pierre Saint Martin in 2015.
“Unless there is a one knockout day then it will still be open,” the American said. “I still think it’s going to be a good Tour.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Clare Lovell)