The current yellow jersey sought respite in stage 14 last night, which presented no game for the general classification contenders trying to hide from a block headwind before the bunch sprint finale.
“Today’s stage was quite welcome ahead of what’s to come,” Froome said. “After the last few days of racing, it was really nice to be able to switch off a little bit [and] sit on the wheels inside the peloton.”
Froome has so far defended his Tour title with an offensive strategy, over the traditional defensive approach. It has seen him put time into principal rivals including Valverde’s Movistar team-mate Nairo Quintana. Quintana was billed as the threat to Froome’s overall campaign, however, has not made a large impact as yet.
Pundits are now questioning if the Colombian is biding his time until the Alps, or simply hasn’t got his British opponent’s measure. Froome catered for Quintana in his adjusted preparation for the Tour this season, which was designed to make him stronger for the last week and Rio Olympics thereafter.
“I’ve got no doubt [Quintana’s] going to attack in the Alps. If the last couple of years are anything to go by, we know he goes really well in the third week,” Froome said. “I’ve got no doubts he’s going to be trying and if not him, then certainly Alejandro Valverde seems to be going extremely well.
“I think the other team that could also be looking to gain time would be the guys from BMC, Tejay (van Garderen) and Richie (Porte), I think they’re also obviously looking to move up and possibly thinking about trying to get up onto the podium now.
“For me personally, I’ve obviously got to keep a close eye on Bauke Mollema now. He’s in second place and at the moment, I’ve got to treat him as my biggest rival.”
Mollema sits one minute and 47 seconds adrift of Froome in second overall with Quintana fourth, behind burgeoning climber Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), almost three minutes in arrears of the race leader.
Stage 15 on Sunday is unlikely to offer the Tour title bidders the same courtesy as last night with Froome identifying the 160km run from Bourg-en-Bresse to Culoz as “tricky”. The stage features six categorised climbs and a steep descent into the finish.
“I’d probably say the final descent, given where it is going to be, is the most critical one tomorrow,” the Sky captain said.
“It is a stage that probably has been a bit underestimated because it’s not a summit finish but it’s extremely tough, over 4000m climbing. I think if someone is not ready for it they could get caught out. So certainly, from our side, we’re looking at this stage as a key stage in this middle phase of the race.”