By Julien Pretot
HUY, Belgium (Reuters) - It is too soon to say Chris Froome will win the Tour de France but not too early for him to be in yellow as it puts the Briton in a perfect place ahead of Tuesday's feared fourth stage over potentially dangerous cobbles.
Team Sky's Froome snatched the overall lead after finishing second in Monday's third stage up the Mur de Huy, forcing his team to defend the yellow jersey early in the race -- a task that will wear his mates down in a particularly grueling Tour.
Team manager Dave Brailsford explained that Sky would lead the line of sports directors cars, meaning they will be first to assist in case of mechanical problems which usually come by the handful on the cobbles.
"It means we're car number one. For that point of view it's perfect (to have the yellow jersey)," he told reporters.
Once again, being at the front of the peloton will be key to avoiding being held up behind a crash but fighting for that position comes at a cost.
"Tomorrow is going to be a nervous stage, you try to stay in the race and use a bit of energy, but we're willing to spend a gamble on it to get through this," Brailsford said.
"If you ride on the front because you've got the (yellow) jersey it kinds of helps you, you're not pushing someone out of the way. You're there because you're leading the race."
Froome crashed out of the Tour last year in the fifth stage, which also featured cobbles, even before riding through the first sector.
Brailsford warned that Sky would need to stay alert.
"I don't think you should read too much from this stage, it's early. It's nice to be in front but it's a bit like scoring a goal in soccer," he said.
"Then you're really vulnerable for five minutes afterwards. I'd say we are pretty vulnerable now. It will be my message to this lot," he added, pointing toward the team bus.
After an under-par opening time trial, Froome looked fresh in tough weather conditions on Sunday, gaining ground on all his rivals, and he did that again on another terrain on Tuesday.
"I don't know how much we can read into that but certainly it's a great position to be in," he said.
"It's a great place to be in going into the cobbles stage tomorrow. Hopefully, being in yellow will elevate the whole team."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)