LA TOUSSUIRE, France (VN) — Two seconds. That’s all the time Chris Froome took from Bradley Wiggins, his teammate and maillot jaune, in the ski village of La Toussuire on Thursday. But he took much more than time.
The moment was there, for everyone to see. Froome attacked the yellow jersey group, his teammate’s group, four kilometers from the finish, 14km into the last of four categorized climbs. He established a gap and then tapped his ear.
It was Sky director Sean Yates telling the flying Froome to slow down and wait for Wiggins.
He looked behind him to see nobody. And then he sat up. Never mind what could have happened on the road in front of him. Froome’s leash was stretched.
“I follow orders at all costs,” Froome said. “I’m part of the team, and I have to do what the team asks me to do.
“He’s just as strong as me, I think, and stronger in the time trials. We’ve still got a 50-kilometer time trial coming… Our plan is to look after Bradley.”
Froome said he knew he’d ridden everyone — including Wiggins — off his wheel. Yates said he under no circumstances told Froome to attack, and that the plan was for Froome to open it up with 500 meters to the line. But make no bones about it: Froome delivered a proper dig high on the day’s final slopes, after being dropped earlier.
“I don’t know if he had a verbal conversation with Bradley not over the radio. I certainly didn’t hear anything,” Yates said at he team bus. “It wasn’t my instruction to attack.”
So this begs the question: what was Froome doing? When asked at the finish line initially, he said he wasn’t going to stop attacking until he realized the GC riders behind him weren’t together, and that Wiggins didn’t have a wheel to hold. The logic on that is unclear.
Froome knew — everyone knew, at that point — he could take time from Nibali and Evans; the voice in the radio, it seemed, worried he’d take too much time from Wiggins. Froome, at one point, slipped off the Sky message, indicating he had a certain “we’ll see” approach.
Yates doesn’t see it any other way than Wiggins.
“There’s no point in gambling. We don’t want to spin the roulette wheel, you know?” Yates said.
The moment was reminiscent of the Angliru climb at the Vuelta a España last year. Froome and Wiggins were together, but Wiggins was over-geared and couldn’t stay with his Kenya-born countryman and an attacking Juan Jose Cobo, who eventually won.
Froome left Wiggins on the road and ended up leapfrogging his captain on GC to move into second, where he finished. Wiggins ended up third overall.
Asked by VeloNews if Froome could win this Tour if he rode for a different team, Yates said, “I don’t know the answer… We basically, won’t know, will we? And we don’t know, because he’s on our team.”
Froome, for the time being, is toeing the line. He was asked if, in five year’s time, he would wonder about the races he could have won, like the 2012 Tour and the 2011 Vuelta. He was even told he was strong enough to win the Tour, so why not have a go?
“Thank you for the compliment,” he said. “But I think Bradley’s in a better position to win the Tour than I am, to be honest.
“That’s a thing I’m going to have to see in five or six years time. But I’m happy with the work I’m doing here. I think I’m doing a really good job. And what more can I say? I’m doing my job.”
Froome is now 2:05 back to Wiggins on GC. It could be much closer.
Froome suffered a flat tire late on stage 1 and wasn’t able to catch back on before the peloton attacked the steep finishing ramp at Seraing, Belgium. Without that, the Sky is awfully cloudy, and Yates has said as much.
“You can never have too much of a good thing, I reckon. Obviously, the fact that we’ve got such a strong rider on our team is great. The fact that he lost one-and-a-half minutes in Liége is really unfortunate for him, you know? Obviously, if he hadn’t it’d be a lot closer.”
Certainly, it’s something being discussed in the Sky bus. Normally, Sky manager Dave Brailsford is happy to chat with reporters before or after stages. But not this day. At the end of the stage, Brailsford spent long minutes in the bus, and came out and gave only a few short answers. The team roles, he said, were clarified by the time trial, and then ended the interviews.
“The fact of the matter is, your job is to make as much out of this as you can, isn’t it?” Brailsford asked a TV reporter, who said that in fact it was.
“We’re first and second in the Tour de France, and let’s look for a scandal. Let’s look for something that doesn’t work.”
And with that, Brailsford ducked back into the bus.