Chris Froome set up a fascinating final week of the Tour de France yesterday by insisting he would be willing to sacrifice a record-equalling fifth title to help Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas win instead.
Thomas and Froome sit first and second in the general classification heading into the final week of the Tour, with Thomas one minute and 39 seconds ahead of his team-mate, who has just an 11-second cushion to Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin.
Now, with six days until Paris, leadership of the team has seemingly changed hands.
“As long as there is a Team Sky rider on the top step of the podium in Paris, I’m happy,” Froome said.
Thomas dutifully talked up Froome as leader even after claiming back-to-back mountain stage victories in La Rosiere and Alpe d’Huez earlier in the week, but by Saturday’s stage to Mende he sounded like a man more confident in yellow. And yesterday – a rest day – it was Froome’s turn to say he would be ready to work for Thomas .
Asked directly if he would sacrifice his hopes of a fifth Tour title to help Thomas, Froome simply said: “Yes”.
If this is a leadership battle, it does not appear an acrimonious one to compare with Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond in 1986, or even Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012.
Thomas and Froome have been team-mates since the latter joined Barloworld in 2008, with both then making the move to Sky when the team launched in 2010.
“We’re good mates,” Thomas said. “We’ve ridden in the same team for a number of years now and we’ve generally lived in the same areas.
“We get on,” he added before breaking out in a grin. “For now”.
Both riders have been careful to say the right things since the Tour began, no doubt conscious that everything could yet change on the road.
Three big stages in the Pyrenees await – today’s run to Bagneres du Luchon, tomorrow’s potentially explosive 65km dash to the summit of the Col du Portet, and Friday’s brutal stage to Laruns, which includes three-quarters of the so-called “Circle of Death” – the Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque.
Thomas must avoid a bad day as he looks to carry a Grand Tour challenge through to the finish for the first time, while Froome must hope his legs hold up as he looks to become the first rider to do a Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.
Froome has said all along he was aiming to come good in the third week, but dismissed the idea that he was plotting points on the race route to attack Thomas.
“All this talk of attacking or not attacking… we’re in an amazing position, we’re one and two,” he said.
“It’s not up to us to be attacking. It’s for all the other riders in the peloton to make up time on us and dislodge us from the position we’re in.”
Though there are now only six days until the Tour reaches Paris, Thomas said he was trying not to shift his own aproach despite holding yellow.
“Obviously the closer you get the more you want to stay on the podium, but winning is still not something I’m really thinking about it,” he said.
“I’m thinking day by day. Coming here, the dream was to be in with a shot of a podium and that’s still on the cards. I’m trying to keep the same mindset.”