MONDORF-LES-BAINS, Luxembourg (VN) — Can Team Sky carry the yellow jersey all the way to Paris? It’s sure stacking up that way.
Geraint Thomas looks poised to pass the maillot jaune to Chris Froome, perhaps as soon as the stage 5 blaster up Belles Filles. And even if Thomas defends Wednesday, Froome is standing next in line when the Tour dips into the Jura Mountains this weekend.
So much for the hype that this year’s Tour de France course could be the most unpredictable in years.
“That is always possible when you win the jersey on the first day,” said Sky sport director Servais Knaven. “Tomorrow is the first mountain stage, and Chris already has a nice advantage on his rivals. It could be a big possibility that Chris is in yellow tomorrow.”
It all started in Düsseldorf, when Thomas took a surprise win on wet roads to snag yellow, and Froome sluiced his way to substantial gains on his GC rivals.
If Froome inherits yellow Wednesday in the Tour first major mountaintop finale — he started Tuesday’s stage second at 12 seconds behind Thomas — he could defend the lead all the way to Paris. Why? The dynamics of this year’s route means that Sky could be in yellow for good.
First off, Thomas is dedicated to helping Froome win, and promises no in-house fighting.
“I’m fully committed to Froomey, and winning the Tour with him,” Thomas said. “Whatever the team decides the plan is [Wednesday], I’ll go with it.”
And once Froome slips on the yellow jersey, it’s highly unlikely he would lose it to a serious GC rival. With “Fortress Froome” looking as strong as ever, Froome is untouchable once in yellow. In his three previous Tour wins, he’s never ceded the maillot jaune to a major rival once deep into the decisive moments of the race.
Even a breakaway bid to snag yellow looks unlikely. Stages on Thursday and Friday favor the sprinters, and they won’t want to sacrifice those opportunities for victory with the mountains looming.
Two more hard mountain stages await this weekend, and with the GC picture likely remaining unsettled after Belles Filles, the top teams will ride to control the pace. That means breakaways are not likely to have a chance to stick until after Monday’s rest day.
“To be honest, it doesn’t matter who has the yellow jersey, it is still up to us to control the race,” Knaven said. “Even if a sprinter team or someone else has the yellow jersey, especially if there are some mountains coming up, we will control it.”
Those factors add up to mean that if Froome has the legs to confirm his lead coming out of this weekend, he could keep the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.
Call it the Sky Sweep.
Sky boss Dave Brailsford already called the start of this year’s Tour de France the best in franchise history. In Saturday’s rainy time trial, Sky put four riders into the top eight. With Thomas’s yellow jersey, it was the first time Sky claimed the maillot jaune on the Tour’s opening day in team history. Froome took big gains to put his rivals on the back foot.
The advantages of defending the yellow jersey are obvious.
“It is always better to have the jersey than to try to get it,” Knaven said. “It is also good for the car number, because if something happens, we are close. It’s good for the motivation to know that we have the yellow jersey. The riders know it’s going to be a hard three weeks. They’re ready.”
If Sky carries the yellow jersey all the way to Paris, it would put the team in elite company.
Individual start-to-finish yellow jersey sweeps have happened a few times during the Tour’s century-long history, but not in the modern era. The last time a team held the yellow jersey from start to finish was in 1970 with Faema-Faemino. Eddy Merckx won the opening prologue, his Italian teammate Italio Zizioli wore the jersey from stages 2 to 5, before Merckx took it back for good.
Of course, the Tour de France is never scripted.
As we were preparing this story, Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty Groupe) went on a solo breakaway, and nursed a 12-minute lead with 90km to go. If the peloton gets caught napping, strange things can happen.