LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, France (Reuters) - Having the Tour de France favorite and the world champion in your team leaves little room for others to shine but Sky’s Chris Froome carved his own name into British cycling folklore on Saturday.
His victory on the seventh stage, which helped Bradley Wiggins take the yellow jersey and took the pressure off Mark Cavendish after a crash-hit Friday, was a supreme display of power and control on a famous French mountain.
Legend has it that long ago a Swedish general, besotted with a dead French maiden whom his troops had chased, took his dagger and etched her name into bark on the peak - giving the mountain its moniker of “The plank of the beautiful girls”.
The indelible mark of British cycling’s sudden ascent to the pinnacle of road racing will also be left in the picturesque surroundings after Froome outpaced defending champion Cadel Evans on the steep last climb before thrusting his arms into the air in triumph.
“It’s something we’ve been training for as a group for months now, to set a nice fast pace and then a steady acceleration,” Froome, 27, told reporters.
“We came up here after the Dauphine, seven or eight of us to look at it. We knew it was one of the critical general classification days. It was something very important for us.”
The significance was born out by the very un-British embrace Froome shared with Wiggins, who finished just behind in third to seize the overall race lead with a 10-second advantage over Evans.
Sky chief Dave Brailsford, whose team’s quest is to make Wiggins Britain’s first Tour champion before heading home to the London Olympics, chose to praise Froome despite his big hope claiming yellow in equally dominant style.
“Chris has got a variety of talents. Not only can he be in the sprints and be competing for stage wins but he is such an invaluable member of this team because I think you need somebody who has got really big power and speed to lead into the climbs,” he said as the sun beamed down on eastern France.
“He is one of best in the business there’s no doubt about it and he always does it with a smile on his face, he never complains, he has never got a bad word to say about anybody, he is a consummate professional.”
Froome had already shown his promise by finishing second overall in last year’s Vuelta in Spain, almost unheard of for a British rider.
The first days of the Tour had not gone well with a puncture in the opening stage and crashes holding him up but in one muscle-busting climb, Froome leapt to ninth overall - one minute 32 behind Wiggins - while also taking the King of the Mountains jersey.
On Sunday, Sky will try to carve out another winning chapter for British cycling when the peloton travels from Belfort to Switzerland’s Porrentruy in a mountainous 157.5 km ride.
Additional reporting by Gregory Blachier; Editing by Alison Wildey