Is Team Sky backing the wrong man?
Chris Froome (Image: ASO)
We all saw it, on the final climb of stage 11 to the mountain-top finish of La Toussuire, Chris Froome attacked and team mate and yellow jersey holder Bradley Wiggins was left behind.
What’s worse, the man emerging as the biggest threat to a Sky and British victory, Vincenzo Nibali was able to follow Froome.
Froome also did the lion’s share of negating Nibali’s two earlier attacks. The Kenyan-born Brit looked like the strongest man on the mountain, but was he?
As soon as Wiggins was dropped, Sky’s sports’ director, Sean Yates, who was driving the team car right behind, called Froome on the radio and told him what was happening. Froome slowed and the status quo preserved.
Was Yates right to do it?
Yes, Froome was dragging Nibali away from the yellow jersey. Even if Froome dropped the Italian in the short amount of climbing left, he could have gained on Wiggins.
But Wiggins didn’t chase. For all his friskiness, Froome had wilted slightly a bit further down the mountain due to the massive amount of work he’d already done, and Wiggins had to ride two kilometres on the front to regain Sky control.
After the stage, Wiggins told journalists, “I was clearing the lactic out of my legs, I just rode at a manageable pace.” He didn’t need to react, Sky are disciplined and Wiggins is the leader. He knew Yates would get the message to Froome, and Froome would obey.
It would have been folly to attack. Sky are doing this Tour by the numbers. They know exactly what power output Wiggins can support, and over three weeks it’s enough to win the Tour. Exceed it and he could pay.
Of course there will be times when he has to exceed it. You can draw all the graphs you like, look at optimum strategies, power, and data permutations, and still, there will be a moment or moments when planning goes out of the window and the winner will be the man who wants it most.
But this wasn’t it.
Of course the media loved it. Froome was asked if he could win the Tour, and diplomatically replied, “One day, maybe.”
They pushed further, pointing out that he looked stronger than Wiggins, but Froome pointed out that Wiggins was in a better position, and was a better time time triallist. There is a very big one of those yet to come, remember.
Then later a journalists dream came true when the Sky WAGs waded in on Twitter, but that was just pride talking.
Thing is, Wiggins probably could have answered Froome’s attack, we don’t know, but it would have made no sense. Unless Froome persisted and pulled Nibali with him, then it would have.
But then he would have been in hot water with Sky’s principal, David Brailsford, who for once appeared a bit rattled at the finish, when he said, “Look at the result of the time trial. Stands for itself, doesn’t it? The fact of the matter is it’s your job to make as much as you want out of this. We’re in first and second on the Tour de France and let’s look for a scandal.”
Wiggins is the team leader, he has the yellow jersey, he is the better time triallist. Froome might come into his own if Cadel Evans finds his climbing legs in the Pyrenees, and if Nibali keeps up the assault he’s already started.
Wiggins hasn’t been put under stress on any climbs yet. I thought he would win this Tour and I think he has the measure of it now. But now I’m off to the betting shop to put ten bucks on Froome to win in 2013.