The Tour de France is devolving into a two-man race — Sky versus Sky if you will. Geraint Thomas now leads the overall with his teammate and presumptive leader Chris Froome 1:25 behind after a display of dominance in stage 11’s uphill finish. There seems to be a little confusion. Froome says they’ll defend yellow. Thomas says he’s racing for Froome. So who is the leader? We’ll get this sorted out on today’s roundtable and discuss how rivals on teams other than Sky can shake up the race.
First, the million dollar question: Who is Team Sky’s leader and why?
Chris Case @chrisjustincase: Chris Froome. Given his track record, as well as Geraint’s lack of leadership experience, it will be no surprise when Froome chips away at his teammate’s lead in the mountains, and puts the nail in the coffin in the final TT. Plus, Froome is the chosen one, and he needs to win so Team Sky can rub in all our noses the fact that Froome was cleared of any wrongdoing at the Vuelta.
Dane Cash @danecash: Froome-ish. I don’t expect Sky to burn too many resources if Thomas has a bad day at any point in the coming mountain stages, but at the same time, it’s not like he’s going to intentionally lose time to put Froome in yellow. Froome will be “protected” because of his track record. Thomas’s strong GC position at least earns him the right to keep plugging away in pursuit of the win though.
Spencer Powlison @spino_powerlegs: Thomas. Yes, it’s unknown how he will handle a full grand tour as an outright leader, but it is also unknown how Froome will perform after winning the Giro d’Italia. Can he achieve this feat for the first time since the EPO era? Seems like a stretch. Geraint’s in yellow and it suits him.
Evaluate Movistar’s tactics in stage 11 — poorly executed or poorly conceived?
Chris: Neither. I think it was a reasonable tactic to send Valverde up the road. Problem is, they came up against an incredibly strong Sky team. When a team has six guys riding at the front of the group, and one after the other rides tempo until he detonates, how do you beat that? Especially when Nairo then proceeds to bungle a response to Dan Martin’s move which took Froome with him.
Dane: Poorly executed. It would have been a nice attempt by Valverde if Landa or Quintana had been able to capitalize. Sky was pretty short on riders for the final few kilometers, but Froome and Thomas were clearly way stronger than the Movistar duo.
Spencer: Poorly conceived because of that long gradual descent off the penultimate climb of the Cormet de Roseland and the fact that the finish climb up to La Rosière was gradual enough to encourage groups to work together. I honestly don’t think any team — even Sky! — could pull off this ambush. The terrain just didn’t allow for it. Should have saved those matches for Alpe d’Huez, hombres!
Why do you think Nibali chipped in to help Team Sky chase Alejandro Valverde?
Chris: Racing for third?
Dane: Valverde did have a decent gap there for a little while, so it’s hard to blame Nibali for wanting to chip in just in case of the disaster scenario (for everyone not on Movistar, that is) where Valverde surprises everyone and snatches the race lead. That said, Nibali probably was hoping to protect at least a podium spot too.
Spencer: Wow, this one truly baffled me. Perhaps he’s already racing for the podium, not for the win. … No, it can’t be! Nibali would never do that. I think it was a matter of principle. He was too proud to sit back and let Sky do everything. Sorry Franco Pelizotti, that means you’ve gotta take a pull!
Sky put six men on the front for today’s final climb. What can their challengers do on Alpe d’Huez to break the stranglehold?
Chris: 1.) Get a good night’s sleep; 2.) Taunt them in the coffee line; 3.) Pray; 4.) Throw tacks in front of their wheels; 5.) When all else fails, attack, attack, attack!
Dane: I still see Movistar’s approach as a viable strategy. Sky’s six riders were down to two by the final kilometers. Unfortunately, those two guys were the strongest riders in the race in stage 11. For all the hoopla that is made about Sky’s domestiques being too strong, the team’s biggest asset is how much better Froome (and apparently Thomas at the moment) are than their rivals. It’s not like Froome and Thomas aren’t suffering just as much when Sky sets that high tempo. They’ve proven strong enough to benefit from it so far, but they’re not immune to bad days.
Spencer: Boy what a pickle. Sky’s riders asserted themselves so much on Wednesday that even if a rider is willing to attack them on the Alpe, I doubt another would have the courage to make a counterattack. I think their best strategy is to avoid losing any time in stage 12 and hope to regroup and go on the offensive in the Pyrenees.