Chris Froome finishes in the pack in Ruta del Sol’s third stage

Wout Poels retains leader’s red jersey after event between Mancha Real and Herrera

Team Sky cyclist Chris Froome smiles prior to riding the first stage of the Ruta del Sol tour. Photograph: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images

Team Sky cyclist Chris Froome smiles prior to riding the first stage of the Ruta del Sol tour. Photograph: Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images

 

Chris Froome finished safely in the pack and his Team Sky team-mate Wout Poels retained the leader’s red jersey after a relatively uneventful third stage at the Ruta del Sol on Friday.

Four-time Tour de France champion Froome told reporters after Thursday’s mountainous second stage that he was not in peak condition for what is his first race of the season and the team would be riding in support of Poels’s victory chances.

That was certainly the case on the gently undulating roads between Mancha Real and Herrera, as the Dutchman sat behind a train of Team Sky riders at the front of the peloton.

On a cool but sunny day, the British team dragged the bunch through the Andalusian countryside at a fair pace and then got out of the way in the final kilometres to let the teams with sprinters contest the stage.

Having seen Thomas Boudat of Direct Énergie steal victory from under his nose in Wednesday’s first stage, EF Education First-Drapac’s Sacha Modolo timed his effort to perfection, beating Movistar’s Carlos Barbero by a bike-length, with Nelson Soto of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA third.

The only minor moment of panic was a crash towards the front of the field as the pack made a left turn a few hundred metres from the finish, but none of the main protagonists were affected and there was no change in general classification.

Poels still leads by two seconds Astana’s Luis León Sánchez and Lotto-Soudal’s Tim Wellens, with former Sky star Mikel Landa, now in Movistar colours, four seconds back, alongside Jakob Fuglsang, also of Astana.

With Saturday’s fourth stage likely to be another bunch finish, the five-day race will be settled in a 14.2km time trial around the coastal town of Barbate on Sunday.

Main threat

While Froome is excellent against the clock, at 27 seconds behind Poels he is probably too far back to challenge for overall victory, with Team Sky’s main threat being Sánchez.

Failing to win here, though, might be a blessing for the 32-year-old British star, as he is riding under the enormous cloud cast by his adverse analytical finding for the asthma drug Salbutamol at the Vuelta a España last September.

Froome has denied any wrongdoing and he has not yet been charged with an anti-doping rule violation. But his refusal to suspend himself while the case is being considered has split the sport, with many saying he should not be racing.

The rider and his boss, Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford, have told the unusually large media presence at this race that he is very keen to resolve the matter but is well within his rights to keep competing. – PA

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