By Julien Pretot
NICE, France (Reuters) - Chris Froome and Alberto Contador had little to complain about as both kept their Tour de France challenges firmly on track with solid performances in Tuesday's team time trial.
Contador's concern ahead of Tuesday's fourth stage was that his Team Saxo-Tinkoff could lose too much ground on Team Sky, while Froome was worried about the burden of controlling the race if his British team won the stage.
Spaniard Contador, a double Tour champion, lost six seconds on Froome, who is looking to win his maiden Tour title, after Saxo-Tinkoff finished fourth, just behind the British outfit.
"I'm really happy with that," Froome told reporters. "Just three seconds down on (leaders) Orica-GreenEdge, this keeps us in a perfect position at the moment, not having the added stress of being in the leader's jersey.
"Personally I felt really good, I was able to do longer pulls on the front. I'm feeling like I'm coming into good form before the mountains."
Froome and his team mates will now be able to stay in the peloton without working too hard as Orica-GreenEdge and the sprinters' teams control the pace in the coming days' relatively flat stages.
"If we were in the yellow jersey it would mean that tomorrow and the next couple of days, which are predominantly flat, we would do a lot of work which I think would be a bit of unnecessary extra work at the moment for such a small advantage," Froome explained.
"If we had taken yellow it would have been by a few seconds."
Contador was also happy, saying: "I think that it was a good day for us.
"Of course, obviously it's better if you are ahead of the other rivals but if you look at the overall standings the differences are marginal," Contador, who was caught up in a crash in Saturday's opening stage, told reporters.
"I'm very happy because the team gave 100 percent. We are nine men but today we formed one. It's only the fourth stage and I'm taking it day by day."
Contador, who won the race in 2007 and 2009 and is back on the Tour after a one-year hiatus because of a doping suspension, is confident he will be in top shape on Saturday when the peloton tackles the Pyrenees - where the fight between the top guns could start.
"Of course, after the crash, there is a little pain in some parts of the body but it's normal," he said. "I hope I'm in perfect condition for the Pyrenees."
Both Froome and Contador, however, have injured domestiques in their teams. Sky's Geraint Thomas has a small fracture in his pelvis and has been riding through the pain barrier, while Spaniard Benjamin Noval ruptured a tendon in his hand when he was hit by a spectator's camera.
Saxo-Tinkoff said in a statement that Noval would continue the race but would need surgery after the Tour.
Some good news for Froome and Contador, however, was that Australian Cadel Evans, the 2011 champion, lost ground after his BMC team took seventh place, 26 seconds off Orica-GreenEdge's pace.
(Editing by Clare Fallon)