PLUMELEC (France) • Tour de France leader Chris Froome is surprised at how much reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali has struggled in this year's cycling race.
Nibali's Astana team finished fifth in Sunday's 28km team time-trial, giving up 34sec to Froome's Sky squad, who were second to world champions BMC - missing out on the win by 0.6sec.
The result left Nibali 13th overall at 2min 22sec from yellow-jersey wearer Froome ahead of yesterday's rest day and today's first mountain stage.
"I certainly didn't expect it if I'm completely honest, I thought he was going to be the one guy from the main contenders who would gain time in this first phase of the race," said Froome.
"I've got to admit I am surprised he's lost so much time already."
BMC's stage victory took Tejay van Garderen up to second overall at just 12sec behind Froome and the Briton said his American rival should now be considered one of the favourites.
"Tejay, I've said from the beginning of the race, is definitely someone to look out for, given also at the Dauphine he was up there in the climbs, so we can expect something similar here," said Froome.
It was not such great news for the other contenders as Alberto Contador's Tinkoff-Saxo finished fourth and he fell to 1:03 behind Froome, although he climbed to fifth overall.
Nairo Quintana's Movistar were third on the stage and the Colombian climber gave up only three seconds to Froome as he moved up to ninth at 1:59.
But with a healthy lead on the rest of his "fantastic four" rivals, Froome now needs only to defend his advantage.
"Other rivals like Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana have lost substantial time already so the pressure is on them to be attacking as we go into the climbs," he said.
Van Garderen was happy with the stage win. "It's an incredible feeling, so far the team in the first week has been incredible, we've passed every test with flying colours," said the 26-year-old, who was fifth overall in 2012 and last year.
"It's given me a lot of morale going into the mountains and given the team a lot of morale to see me high up there on GC (general classification)," he added.
But he scoffed at the idea of winning the Tour. "That's a tall order. First, we have to get to the Pyrenees, the Pyrenees are going to be the test of who's fit enough to win the Tour and the Alps, who's got the stamina to make it to the end.
"We've definitely passed the first phase of the Tour well. The way I was climbing and feeling at the Dauphine compared to Froome, I think I was close. But we're really not going to know till the third week who has the depth to hold it but the Tour's a marathon and we're not even close to the end."
Nibali may be the furthest back of the favourites but said he had recovered from his blip on Saturday when he lost 10sec on a relatively sedate climb.
"For the climbers, the Tour starts now. I'm confident, I think yesterday (Saturday) was a one-off."
TOUR DE FRANCE
Stage 10: StarHub Ch212, 8.15pm