While no match to the relentless and spectacular Sky machinery, Euskaltel's two leaders showed they're to be counted on in the coming days in the mountains by climbing with the 'best of the rest' on the first stage in the Pyrenees on Saturday.
He might 'just' have placed tenth on the stage, but make no mistake: this was well and truly Igor Antón's Tour de France breakthrough. The native of Galdakano has never found life easy in the Tour, but his ride on the eighth stage from Castres to Ax 3 Domaines was as promising as it was solid.
He attacked somewhat half-heartedly on the Pailhères, but still had the legs to keep a steady pace on the final climb and pace himself to tenth on the stage and consequently 15th overall.
In so doing, he outclimbed the likes of Rodríguez, Martin, Roche, Peraud, Costa, Fugslang, Talansky, Rolland, Evans, Schleck and the sorry van Garderen. He might not have been close to glory on the stage, but with the state of form he's in he should be in contention come Sunday or the Alps.
Mikel Nieve was even stronger, grabbing sixth on the line after a tremendously Samu-esque, well-paced effort on the final climb. While he's now 14th on GC and well on course for a top ten, he revealed his true ambitions when he sprinted for the mountain points on the Pailhères.
Heading into the second day in the Pyrenees, he's only ten points off Froome's polkadots. It promises to be quite a fight for the mountains jersey this year, with Nieve, Rolland, Quintana and that man Froome of course all showing an enviable state of form.
As for the remaining 'carrots', they even bottled it big time or did the wise thing and kept something in reserve for tomorrow's gruelling day in the saddle.
As can be seen from the results below, they were well and truly out of contention.
- (1, Chris Froome (Sky), 5:03:18)
- 6, Mikel Nieve, 1:34
- 10, Igor Antón, 1:45
- 44, Mikel Astarloza, 8:32
- 95, Juan José Oroz, 29:02
- 109, Rubén Pérez, s.t.
- 110, Romain Sicard, s.t.
- 147, Gorka Izagirre, 29:12
- 169, Ion Izagirre, 31:15
- 170, Juan José Lobato, s.t.