Chris Froome (Team Sky) enjoyed a stress-free day in the yellow jersey on stage six of the Critérium du Dauphiné, won from the breakaway by Thomas Voeckler (Europcar).
Voeckler won a four-up sprint from the remnants of the day’s breakaway to claim his first victory since triumphing on stage 16 of the 2012 Tour de France.
Froome, meanwhile, finished safely in the bunch to maintain his 52-second advantage over team-mate Richie Porte.
But Froome, who is bidding to become the third Team Sky rider to win the Dauphine title in as many years after Bradley Wiggins’ victories in 2011 and 2012, isn’t underestimating the challenge he faces in keeping the yellow jersey for the next two days.
“I’ve got a good advantage at the moment, especially keeping in mind that the next guy behind me is Richie Porte” said the Kenyan-born Brit.
“We’re in a pretty good position but we’ve got two really hard days coming up. We’re going to be tested I’m sure and we’re just looking to get through the next two days without losing any time to any of the major contenders.”
The eight-rider breakaway group formed midway through the 143km medium mountains stage, going clear of the peloton on the Col du Barioz, the second of two categorised climbs.
Voeckler, Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol), Kevin Seeldraeyers and Egor Silin (both Astana), Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi), Alexandre Geniez (FDJ), Jose Herrada (Movistar) and Thomas de Gendt (Vacansoleil-DCM) were kept on a tight leash, never extending their advantage past three minutes but staying clear of the peloton over the rolling roads.
Omega Pharma-QuickStep took up the chase in a bid to tee-up Gianni Meersman, leader of the points classification, and the break’s lead dropped to a little under two minutes with 30km to go.
The group splintered as the pace rose, leaving Seeldraeyers, Silin, Herrada and Voeckler out front, and the quartet worked together to keep the peloton at bay.
Knowing the winner would now come from the breakaway, the four riders began to play cat-and-mouse as they entered the final two kilometres. Silin was first to attack ahead of the flamme rouge before Astana team-mate Seeldraeyers jumped with 400m to go, but Voecker came round the Belgian to win the sprint, with Lopez second and Seeldraeyers only third.
Critérium du Dauphiné 2013 – stage six – report
1) Thomas Voeckler (FRA) – Europcar – 3:24:13 hours
2) José Herrada Lopez (SPA) – Movistar – same time
3) Kevin Seeldraeyers (BEL) – Astana
4) Egor Silin (RUS) – Astana
5) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Team Sky +46″
6) Gianni Meersman (BEL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep – same time
7) Francesco Gavazzi (ITA) – Astana
8) Wesley Sulzberger (AUS) – Orica-GreenEDGE
9) Arnaud Gerard (FRA) – Bretagne-Seche Environnement
10) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep
1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky 19:33:43 hours
2) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +52″
3 )Rohan Dennis (AUS) – Garmin-Sharp +54″
4) Michael Rogers (AUS) – Saxo-Tinkoff +1’37”
5) Daniel Moreno (SPA) – Katusha +1’47”
6) Daniel Navarro (SPA) – Cofidis +1’49”
7) Rein Taaramae (EST) – Cofidis +1’52”
8) Michal Kwiatkowski (POL) – Omega Pharma-QuickStep +1’58”
9) Leopold Konig (CZE) – NetApp-Endura +2’16”
10) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +2’20”