FRANCE CYCLING TOUR DE FRANCE 2018
Australian cycling star Richie Porte had a cheeky dig at Chris Froome after the defending Tour de France champion lost time to his rivals.
But Froome sounded an ominous warning after his small stage-six setback, saying he planned to be in top shape in the back end of the three-week race.
Two months ago, Froome launched an astonishing solo attack in the third-last stage to win his first Giro d'Italia title.
While no rider has won the Giro-Tour double since 1998, everyone will be wary of what the four-time Tour champion may have up his sleeve.
Another intrigue is in Froome's own team, with fellow Team Sky rider Geraint Thomas continuing to emerge as an overall chance.
As Froome lost six seconds on the steep climb to the Mur de Bretagne finish, Thomas gained two seconds on stage six and is now second in the general classification, just three seconds behind Porte's BMC teammate Greg Van Avermaet.
That prompted Porte's pointed observation after he finished 11th and also improved three places to 11th overall, 53 seconds off the race lead.
"It was a good GC (general classification) day and it will be interesting now with Team Sky to see if they back Geraint Thomas or Froomey," Porte said.
Porte regularly trained with Thomas before the Tour and is a long-time friend of Froome, although that friendship has not been the same since the defending Tour champion worked against the Australian last year in a big pre-Tour race.
Ireland's Dan Martin won stage six as Froome was among several top names who lost time on the leaders.
The Team UAE Emirates rider jumped away from the main pack inside the final kilometre, beating France's Pierre Latour by one second and Spain's Alejandro Valverde by three.
Porte and Thomas were in Valverde's group after the 181km ride from Brest.
Froome seemed unconcerned after the finish of stage six, which lived up to its billing as a key week-one marker for the overall hopes.
"That's the plan for me. The second or third week, I plan to be in the best shape possible," Froome told the cyclingnews website.
Last year's runner-up Rigoberto Uran was 11 seconds behind Martin but it was worse for French hope Romain Bardet, who ended up 31 seconds off the pace after a mechanical problem just before the last climb.
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, last year's Giro champion, suffered a puncture with five kilometres to go and ended the day 53 seconds behind the winner.
He was then handed a 20-second penalty by the race jury for staying too long in his team car's slipstream.
Martin finished runner-up at Mur de Bretagne in a Tour stage three years ago.
"I thought about it all day ... this time I was coming for victory," he said.
Friday is the longest stage of the race at 218km, from Fougeres to Chartres.