For the second time in five days, the Froome-dog and his Team Sky litter have been mauled – only this time, the consequences were more damaging. Writes Anthony Tan from Saint-Amand-Montrond, the team must now come with a nota bene: 'Fragile – Handle With Care".
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

Two days ago in Mont-Saint-Michel, despite losing two minutes to maillot jaune Chris Froome in the first individual time trial, Alberto Contador presciently said: "Cycling is one of these sports where a lot of unsuspected things can happen, and if you have one bad day, you can lose everything. We will do what we can to get as close to the win as possible, and we're also here as creators."

On the podium today in Saint-Amand-Montrond, it was probably the most strained smile I've seen from Froome since he inherited yellow a week ago atop Ax-3-Domaines.

Right from the outset – even before the race began in Corsica – I've always maintained that Contador is the only man who really believes he can beat Froome. Or, more correctly, other than Froome, the only man who truly believes he can win this year's Tour de France.

Thirteen stages down, eight to go, I still believe that to be the case. "We have shown that we all have the same goal in mind, to fight for victory," Contador affirmed Friday.

While Froome said after today's stage he had a handy lead over his rivals and "only lost a minute", he also stated: "This is just another reminder that this race is still one-hundred per cent open."

That Saxo-Tinkoff is a man down, losing one of Contador's perennial wingmen, Benjamin Noval, en route to Ax-3-Domaines last Sunday, makes Friday's performance even more impressive. Perhaps they and Sky Procycling were evenly matched at the start of the Tour, when each boasted nine fully-fit men – but without Vasil Kiryienka and Edvald Boasson Hagen, and Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh not at full strength due to injuries, collectively, Saxo-Tinkoff now have the upper hand.

Monday in Saint-Nazaire, at their first rest day press conference, Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said there was always a danger in taking the maillot jaune too early. Last year, when Froome won the seventh stage to La Planche des Belles Filles, his then teammate and designated leader Bradley Wiggins took yellow and, largely unchallenged by virtue of their relentless metronomic tempo, up hill and down dale, kept it all the way to Paris.

Today, in Saint-Amand-Montrond, I asked Froome: Was there a sense they would be able to get away with the same thing this year, rather than find themselves besieged by the likes of Garmin-Sharp, Movistar and now Saxo-Tinkoff?

"I don't think we've been necessarily riding in the same way that we were last year; I think it's only circumstantial that we've ended up in the (yellow) jersey when we did," he replied.

"Obviously, (we're) trying to take advantage of every mountaintop finish, every time trial, every opportunity where we can take time. But, we've just got to remember that other teams are here, trying to do exactly the same thing. And teams like Saxo Bank today saw their opportunity in the final thirty kilometres and… hats off to them. They rode a really, really good race today, and for that, they've been rewarded with over a minute's advantage on GC."

Brailsford admitted that, after last Sunday's stage to Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Sky's heads of state were forced to revise their race strategy, although when I asked him what that broadly consisted of, he refused point-blank to go into any detail. "We've learnt some lessons, valuable lessons, to take into the rest of the race," he said. "But I'm not going to spell it out. I'm not going to go into the details of the changes we're going to make."

Never mind, Sir Dave B… It looks like you've learned a few more lessons, and will have to change plans once again.

"Nobody's going to attack a team that has eight riders on the front and is working like a well-oiled machine. The riders need to see some sign of weakness to get involved, and then once they do, it's like a feeding frenzy," Garmin-Sharp sports director Charly Wegelius told AFP.

Last Monday, half an hour before I attended the Sky press conference in Saint-Nazaire, Saxo-Tinkoff held theirs in the same five-star hotel, where Contador acknowledged that, based on where things stand, "we have to take a few risks".

"I will try and do something. If you don't think you can succeed then you never will."

Bertie kept his word. He also made mention of this fact: "Throughout my career I've found my best form in the third week."

The third week is upon us. Le Géant de Provence, otherwise known as Mount Ventoux, arrives Sunday, Bastille Day.

And Contador must attack again, because on paper, next Wednesday's time trial favours the Froome-dog arguably more so than the first, where he put two minutes into the double Tour champion. "We are still forced to go on the attack in the Alps," the Spaniard confessed.

Let the fireworks begin.