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Van Garderen in chase at Tour

Jerome Pugmire Associated Press

PLUMELEC, France – Race leader Chris Froome heads to the first mountain stages of the Tour de France in confident mood – and with an unexpected main rival.

The British rider, seeking his second Tour win after his dominant victory in 2013, safely kept the yellow jersey after his Team SKY finished one second behind American rider Tejay van Garderen’s BMC in Sunday’s team time trial, the ninth stage of a crash-marred race.

Van Garderen is 12 seconds behind Froome in second place, putting him ahead of Nairo Quintana of Colombia, the 2013 Tour runner-up and the Giro d’Italia winner in 2014, as well as two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador of Spain and defending Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.

The 26-year-old van Garderen has never finished higher than fifth at the Tour, but is so far riding like a contender.

“Those guys have that tag of ‘Fab Four’ which is getting a bit irritating,” van Garderen said. “All those guys in the top four have won Grand Tours. … It doesn’t mean I’m intimidated by them. … I’m not afraid to beat them.”

The most disappointing of the “Fab Four” has so far been Nibali, who cracked in a short climb at the end of Saturday’s eighth stage and lost more time in Sunday’s TTT when his Astana team finished fifth, behind Contador’s Tinkoff-Saxo and Quintana’s Movistar.

“I thought (Nibali) was going to be the one guy from the main contenders who would gain time in this first phase of the race,” the 30-year-old Froome said. “I am surprised.”

Contador, who entered the Tour on the back of his second Giro d’Italia win and seventh Grand Tour title, is in fifth place – 1 minute, 3 seconds behind Froome – while Quintana is 1:59 behind in ninth and Nibali sits 2:22 behind in 13th spot.

“It’s one thing not to lose any time to your rivals but it’s another to gain time on them,” Froome said. “The pressure’s certainly not on my shoulders.”

Tuesday’s 10th stage heads into the Pyrenees.

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