Chris Froome
Chris Froome still holding the yelloe jersey but expects a stiff challenge in coming days Getty

Chris Froome reckons the battle for the Tour de France's yellow jersey starts for real in the Pyrenees on 14 July.

The Team Sky rider enjoyed a welcome rest day in Pau on 13 July having made a start he could only have dreamed of.

Froome leads Tejay van Garderen by 12 seconds after nine of the 21 stages.

And although the American cannot be discounted as a threat, it is his advantage over his predicted main rivals that gives him real cause for hope.

The 2013 winner leads Spain's double champion Alberto Contador by 63 seconds and Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana by one minute 59 seconds.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali is a huge two minutes 22 seconds down on the Kenya-born Briton after a surprisingly disappointing start to Le Tour by Italy's Astana rider.

But the 103.7mile stage from Tarbes to La Pierre-Saint-Martin on 14 July sees the race hit the mountains for the first time and Froome can expect several attacks on his yellow jersey.

Time for pressure

Froome, 30, said: "This is the heart of the race now, we're going to see who's done their homework, this is where the real race for yellow truly starts. It's up to other teams to put pressure, I'm in a privileged position.

"Tuesday is a key stage, it's not as hard as others but it is the first test, it's a gauge over the next two weeks, so it's a very important stage. I'm very glad I'm not trying to make up time on someone else, it's up to others to show their cards."

He admits the pain of being forced to quit the defence of the coveted maillot jaune after just five stages through injury in 2014 still hurts.

But in an ominous warning to his rivals, he reckons he is in even better shape than when he succeeded Bradley Wiggins as champion in 2013.

The Kenya-born rider added: "Coming into this race, a lot of last year was still on the back of my mind and this first week the big thing was not to lose any time.

"So to gain quite substantial amounts of time, that is the dream scenario. I have my team to thank me for that, they have been there every step of the way, and I couldn't be in a better position.

"In 2013, I came into the race and I had won pretty much every race before hand, and I did feel once I was past the halfway mark I was almost just hanging on to the finish.

"This year I'm a lot fresher, a lot more mentally prepared, I feel as if I'm getting stronger in this year's race. But it's a long race, there's a long way to go, we haven't even hit the mountains yet."