Chris Froome ended stage two of the Tour de France exactly where he wanted to be after some late fireworks on the road to Sheffield.
The tougher than usual second stage over the rolling roads from York to the Steel City had the potential to put an early twist in the general classification battle, and Froome’s goal was simply to stay close while not taking a yellow jersey he did not want to have to defend so early in the Tour.
It went according to plan after a fascinating game of brinksmanship between the GC contenders on the testing final climb of Jenkin Road before they descended to the finish, where Italian Vincenzo Nibali took yellow, leaving Froome in fifth overall just two seconds off the pace.
“You could see at the end there a lot of the contenders were making a move and Nibali ended up taking two seconds on us,” Froome said.
“Those are small margins but it puts him in the yellow jersey so it’s definitely going to be an exciting next week of racing to come.”
Sunday’s stage included nine categorised climbs - and a number of not insignificant bumps in the road in between.
While the category two climb over Holme Moss was the biggest, arguably the worst was saved until last, with the short, sharp ‘Cote de Jenkin Road’ boasting gradients which reach 33 per cent.
It was just after the worst of it was over that Froome put in a burst of acceleration to leave main rival Alberto Contador (Team Saxo-Tinkoff) and Astana rider Nibali behind, although he did not press home his advantage on the descent - a stage win was not on Team Sky’s agenda here.
“For me personally it was about staying out of trouble,” Froome said of his burst of speed. “I wanted to stay at the front and avoid any major issues or splits.”
By allowing Nibali to go clear, Sky do not need to worry about defending the yellow jersey through a challenging first week of the Tour, with the cobblestones of Tuesday’s stage five from Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut beginning to loom large.
“It’s 100 per cent good for us because Nibali got two seconds and if Astana want to defend the yellow jersey they will have to work for it,” said Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford.
“The question of course is whether they will.”
Geraint Thomas was one of those to lead Froome to the foot of Jenkin Road, and the Welshman was satisfied with a difficult day’s work.
“It was really hard over the last 35km or so, just up and down all the way,” he said. “Garmin-Sharp really put the hammer down and there must have been only about 20 guys left once it all eased up and then we were able to take control a bit.”