Team Sky finished stage one of the Criterium du Dauphine safely on a day for the sprinters in France.
Chris Froome lost no time to his general classification rivals to maintain third place overall as Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) emerged after a wild final 10 kilometres to win the sprint in Saint-Vulbas.
On paper it looked like it would be a straightforward day in France, with just four fourth-category climbs to contend with across the 186km stage, but the pace went through the roof in the closing stages as both sprint and general classification teams looked to protect their leaders.
Team Sky moved to the fore to protect Froome, with Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe putting in big stints at the front of the pack, before Michal Kwiatkowski took over inside the final 2km to guide him home safely. Froome held firm during a physical run-in to remain just 13 seconds off the lead.
Froome wore the polka dot jersey on behalf of race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff), who was in the yellow jersey, but will revert to his usual Team Sky kit for stage two.
The stage had played out as expected, with a two-man break going clear in the early stages. Mitchell Docker (Orica-GreenEdge) and Frederik Backaert (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) built a strong gap of around five minutes, but, after Docker had sat up, Backaert was caught 13km from home and the battle for the win intensified.
Bouhanni battled hard for position inside the final hundred metres before rounding Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon) to claim victory.
After the stage Sport Director Nicolas Portal was happy to see the team come through a sketchy finale as Froome just about stayed upright and out of trouble.
“In the finish the guys did really well. We had a plan to put Froomey in a really good position so he could avoid any crashes,” he confirmed.
“With the sprint teams it’s always hectic and you could see on the TV there was a big fight between the lead-out trains. It’s dangerous, but that’s why we want to be in a good position. The line is thin between fighting for position and being close to a crash. That’s why we’re always trying to have guys around Chris who know how to race in the wheels and move him up.”
“Other than that today was pretty good for the team. We had a small incident during the stage where Sergio had an insect in his helmet on the climb. He crashed and that also caught up Ian Stannard. It was nothing major – just a bit of skin – and both guys were there at the finish.
“There were a couple of easier hours towards the start of the day where Tinkoff controlled the stage. Then in the last 70km after the feedzone the speed started to increase.”
Reposted from www.teamsky.com. Photo credit: Team Sky