Chris Froome has come full circle.
Once the super-domestique on Team Sky who helped Bradley Wiggins to his Tour title in 2012 — while famously almost dropping his captain — Froome now finds himself, after four Tour de France titles of his own and two other grand tour successes, as a worker bee for longtime teammate Geraint Thomas. This is what we learned on the short, mountainous stage 17.
For Team Sky’s manager David Brailsford, Froome doesn’t need a fifth yellow jersey to become part of cycling lore.
“If ‘G’ [Thomas] goes on to win the race he’ll be a legend, but if Froomey helps him and sacrifices like he did today, he’ll be a titan,” said Brailsford after Wednesday’s stage. “He’ll be one of the all-time greats without even winning the race. You can’t imagine what it takes to be a true champion and be able to do that.”
For over a week, since Thomas solidified his yellow jersey lead, pundits have been wringing their hands trying to figure out the conundrum of leadership inside Team Sky. Surely, Froome would do anything, even attack the yellow jersey, in his quest for five Tour titles, many suggested. For his part, Thomas never seemed to want to step on Froome’s toes, forever restrained in his responses about his role, his chances, and the stakes. But many were whispering that he should take the chance while it was on offer — it may never happen again, they said.
Froome played it down. Thomas played it down. Both men remained polite, gentlemanly even, in their answers about how their dynamic was playing out behind the scenes.
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Most of the pundits didn’t believe it. Others simply called bulls–t.
And then stage 17 revealed the reality of the situation. Froome can play the perfect teammate.
He first chased down an attacking Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), forcing Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) to chase, which allowed Thomas to sit on the Dutchman’s wheel. Then, once the leading group came back together, Froome shadowed Dumoulin until he could give no more. It all played out according to plan.
Inside the Sky bus, according to Brailsford, there was never a conundrum of leadership, and no headaches were had in deciding how the team’s leadership should play out.
“No headaches at all, and I’m quite sincere about that. They’re mature guys, they understand the race, they respect each other,” Brailsford continued. “The key thing with them is an open communication. There needs to be trust and no surprises. They have to be honest with each other on the road to optimize the decisions as they see them. And that’s what we’ve seen.”
Now Team Sky turns its attention to preserving Thomas’s lead and to keeping Froome on the podium. With a sprinter-friendly stage 18, then another Pyrenean mountain stage before a final time trial, Brailsford is confident that his riders have the goods necessary to hold on for a historic podium presence.
“What you get with Chris is he’ll empty the tank,” Brailsford said. “He absolutely emptied the tank today. But he’s not out of it, necessarily. If anyone can bounce back, it’s Chris Froome. I wouldn’t count him out just yet.”
Fred Dreier contributed to this report from Saint-Lary-Soulan, France.