By Julien Pretot
LA BAULE, France (Reuters) - Rivals have been bragging that they dismantled Team Sky with a brutal onslaught in Sunday's second mountain stage, yet Chris Froome is still in yellow and on the path to a maiden Tour de France title.
"It should have been the death blow. I would have seized the opportunity," Sky sports director Nicolas Portal told Reuters on Monday as the peloton enjoyed the first rest day in the three-week race.
Movistar followed up on early attacks from the Garmin-Sharp teams in Saturday's eighth stage to isolate Froome on Sunday and the Briton quickly found himself with no team mates around him while Alejandro Valverde and Alberto Contador both had plenty of support.
Yet Movistar seemed content with eliminating Sky's Richie Porte, who had started the day in second place overall, while Saxo-Tinkoff played a waiting game.
"We had the feeling that Saxo were a bit under par," said Portal. "I heard that (Movistar manager) Eusebio (Unzue) was proud to have broken the Sky machine. It's clear that they were brilliant but I don't think he wanted to win the Tour, he wanted to secure second place (overall)."
"We learnt some lessons," Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford told a news conference, refusing to elaborate.
Froome leads Valverde by one minute 25 seconds and sixth-placed Contador by 1:51 after destroying the field in the opening mountain stage and he is expected to stretch his advantage after Wednesday's individual time trial to Mont St Michel en route to a grueling third week in the Alps.
Belkin Dutch riders Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam are in third and fourth overall, but Froome does not regard them as top contenders for the win in Paris.
"The way I see it at the moment, my main rivals are Movistar and Saxo-Tinkoff," Froome told a news conference.
Spain's Contador, the 2007 and 2009 Tour champion, admitted that he was not at his best, although he drew comfort from the fact that his form usually improved in the third week of grand Tours.
"It is true that Froome is in great form and that my form is not extraordinary but every time in the grand Tours I am better in the third week as I showed in the last Vuelta," Contador told a news conference. "Froome had problems in the last week, too."
In the 17th stage of last September's Spanish race, Froome, who had raced in the Tour and the London Olympics time trial, struggled while Contador launched a surprise, devastating, long-range attack to seize the overall lead, eventually winning the race.
"People can speculate and look at my previous performances...but I was not at my best (at the Vuelta)," Froome said.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)