Already used to riding on his own, albeit prematurely, Chris Froome should nevertheless put more time into his rivals in the first of two tests against the clock, writes Anthony Tan from Saint-Malo.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

Till last Sunday, Chris Froome probably didn't think he'd be riding on his own so soon, but perhaps it's a good thing, since tomorrow, he'll be doing just that in the first individual time trial at the centenary Tour.

Wednesday, all talk about whether Team Sky is stronger or weaker than last year becomes irrelevant (though Froome said today "I think the line-up we have this year is a lot more focused on the goal we came here with"), because the only company ol' Froomey shall enjoy will be the words of his sport director Nicolas Portal and team manager Dave Brailsford through his earpiece.

"Tomorrow's definitely a day I really want to target and really go for it," he said after the tenth stage in Saint-Malo, where he preserved his 1'25 advantage over Alejandro Valverde and 1'51 lead over Alberto Contador on the classement général.

"Honestly, I haven't really thought too much about what I'm going to expect from tomorrow. I just know I'm going to get out there and give it absolutely everything I've got. And the rest… the rest is pretty much out of my control, how fast the other guys go."

However if I were him, I reckon I would give a bit of thought to "the other guys", because it might make the ol' Froome-dog feel a little more chipper.

You see, Wednesday's 33-kilometre time test is not at all dissimilar to the time trial on the ninth stage of the 2012 Tour, where Froome finished second to his teammate and eventual overall winner, Bradley Wiggins.

Significantly, in a 42.5km TT from Arc-et-Senans to Besançon, the 28-year-old's time of 51 minutes 59 seconds was 1'08 pacier than the then defending champ, Cadel Evans; 3'26 better than Valverde; 3'55 ahead of Laurens Ten Dam, who currently sits fourth overall; and a convincing 4'11 faster than Daniel Martin, Sunday's stage winner in Bagnères-de-Bigorre and currently seventh overall.

Contador, Ten Dam's Belkin buddy Bauke Mollema (third overall), Roman Kreuziger (fifth on GC) and Joaquim Rodríguez (ninth on GC) did not ride the 2012 Tour. But the fact is, none is superior to Froome in time trials. "It will be difficult for me because it is completely flat, suitable for specialists," said Contador, "and in this sense, it's a disadvantage."

And for all bar Martin, Froome's advantage over the aforementioned quartet were augmented in the final 53.5km time trial from Bonneval to Chartres, although historically, performances there are decided on residual strength more so than the parcours, or whether one is a specialist or not against the clock.

How much last Sunday's stage, where Froome found himself ambushed by Garmin-Sharp and Movistar, and suddenly isolated, took out of him remains to be seen, though in today's press conference in Saint-Malo, the rake-thin grimpeur was looking a little worse for wear, despite yesterday's rest day in Saint-Nazaire. "Yeah, being in the yellow jersey is a bit of an extra weight on my shoulders," he admitted.

"But this is something I've trained for… I believe I've had the experience in the races earlier on this year, but obviously not quite on this level, like it is at the Tour de France. But every day in yellow is an absolute blessing, so I'll take each day as I can at the moment."

Slightly unusually, for such a moneyed team, he only underwent wind tunnel testing for the first time this year, but said it was useful in refining his already considerable prowess in le contre-la-montre. "I did find some interesting little things with my position; things I had done to move into a more comfortable position, (to) see if it would affect the drag or not. So, I found it really useful, from that side of things."

Despite being imperilled last weekend, I think we'll see a superlative performance from Froome, extending his lead over those who sit closest to him.

But as Valverde said in Movistar's rest day press conference, this year's Tour "will all come down to the four Alpine stages, all of them really hard. We have seen Sky doesn't have such a strong squad as they had last year, and should Froome become isolated again, we can really hurt him."

However, the polarising Spaniard also conceded, "It will be hard to find such a situation again. There are still lots of mountains ahead and every single contender can have a bad day and lose everything – just as it happened with (Richie) Porte; he was the second strongest man and... see what happened. The Tour is not won or lost until we get to Paris."