LE GRAND-BORNAND, France – Facing the climbing prowess of Chris Froome’s Team Sky, Greg Van Avermaet expected to lose his lead of the Tour de France on the first day in the mountains.
Instead, the Olympic champion managed to strengthen his hold on the yellow jersey when an anticipated attack never came on Tuesday’s Stage 10.
Van Avermaet escaped in an early breakaway and held on when he was left all alone to struggle up the final of four Alpine passes. Once over the Col de la Colombiere, he glided down to the finish to remain leader for a seventh straight day.
“I was waiting for directions from Sky to see what they wanted. (But) the moment I went nobody reacted,” Van Avermaet said. “It was the only way to keep the jersey and I’m very happy with my stage.”
The prize was boosting his 43-second lead over Froome’s teammate, Geraint Thomas, to an advantage of 2 minutes, 22 seconds. Defending champion Froome was left sixth overall at 3:21 behind.
Julian Alaphilippe, a French rider for Quick-Step, won the 158.5-kilometer (98.5-mile) ride from Lake Annecy that included four major climbs before a descent to Le Grand-Bornand in 4 1/2 hours.
Van Avermaet’s prediction that Sky would topple him from the general classification was not ill-founded. The Belgian is excellent in rolling terrain and single-day classics but not a top climber. He was also riding without his BMC team’s best climber and leader, Richie Porte, who broke a collarbone on Sunday.
Precedent also pointed to a move by Sky. On the four Tours Froome has won, he has worn the yellow jersey after the first mountain stage.
It appears Sky was biding its time.
“It was some steep climbs and we were really expecting it to pick up somewhere (…) but it never really materialized,” Thomas said. “With two big days to come everyone was probably saving it.”
Or as Froome put it, “No one really showed all their cards today.
“Everyone played it a little conservatively maybe thinking about the next two days to come, which are going to be hard as well. From our side, I can just be happy with how the team rode and we had the numbers up front which was the main thing.”
Up next on Wednesday’s Stage 11 is a 108.5-kilometer (67-mile) leg from Albertville to the top of the La Rosiere summit. That will be followed by Stage 12’s ascent of the legendary Alpe d’Huez.
Given the difficulty of those stages, Van Avermaet said he had no illusions of fending off Sky again.
“I give myself zero chance for tomorrow,” Van Avermaet said.
Alejandro Valverde of Movistar moved into third overall at 3:10 off the pace. Jakob Fuglsang of Astana was next at 3:12. Among other title candidates, Adam Yates and Mikel Landa were on the same time as Froome, Vincenzo Nibali was ninth (3:27), Tom Dumoulin was 11th at 3:42, Romain Bardet was 14th at 4:11, and Nairo Quintana was 16th at 4:29.
Alaphilippe attacked on the third climb of the leg and finished more than a minute ahead of Jon Izaguirre in second.
Froome was momentarily slowed down by mechanical mishaps on a gravel path atop the second climb up the beyond-category Montee du Plateau des Glieres, the first use of a dirt road by the Tour since 1987.
“I had a puncture on the dirt section and got a spare wheel from a teammate only to find out it was actually flat as well” Froome said. “It was a little bit of a comedy of errors going on there. But it was still far from the finish of the race so it wasn’t too crazy and I was able to get back in.”
Earlier, Dutch rider Annemiek Van Vleuten won the women’s La Course for a second year in a row. The single-day race included most of the men’s route.
Associated Press writers Andrew Dampf and Ciaran Fahey contributed.
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