LE CAP D’AGDE, France (VN) — Chris Froome looks capable of winning this Tour de France when it ends in Paris next Sunday. However, he has one man standing in his way — Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins.
“Circumstances sometimes dictate that not necessarily the best man wins, but you have to play to your strengths and weaknesses,” said Sky director Sean Yates on Friday.
Froome trails Wiggins by two minutes and five seconds. He lost 1:25 on the opening road stage due to a flat tire and 35 seconds in the time trial to Besançon. Based on the mountain stages, however, he appears the strongest. He attacked to win the climb to La Planche des Belles Filles and nearly dropped his captain when he went with 4km remaining up La Toussuire Thursday.
The way he attacked and left Wiggins behind on La Toussuire brought up several questions. Why did he do it if only to be called back? If he is stronger, why does Sky not let him win the Tour?
“I don’t want to go into details,” Yates said. “You can make what you want of it from the TV pictures, which I didn’t have [in the team car], but there was a little bit of a misunderstanding. Let’s put it that way.”
Froome eased off when he heard the team on his two-way radio and waited for Wiggins. He continued with Wiggins to the summit, where the questions began.
“Generally speaking, there are things you can do and you can’t do. That’s probably one of the things you shouldn’t do,” BMC Racing’s general manager, Jim Ochowicz, told VeloNews. “From the start you have to have one goal and stick with it until it fails. Wiggins hasn’t failed, so why change the strategy?”
The race faces several hard stages to come, including two difficult days in the Pyrenean mountains after the rest day on Tuesday. The teams that VeloNews spoke with said Froome must put personal ambition aside and protect Wiggins through the mountains.
“I don’t think there are problems in Sky,” Liquigas-Cannondale general manager Roberto Amadio told VeloNews. “A team at this level knows how to manage its affairs.”
Giuseppe Martinelli, Astana’s general manager, said: “Froome has shown to be stronger than Wiggins, but Sky’s hierarchy has Wiggins on top. This year, [Wiggins] proved to be the strongest rider in the world in stage races, small or large.
“It’s better they keep the peace than to end up second and third as they did last year at the Vuelta. I think the Vuelta was somewhat the key to help them figure out how to handle this year and not make a mistake.”
Sky’s general manager, David Brailsford, said Froome would like to gain more time on Liquigas’ Vincenzo Nibali ahead of the final time trial. He currently holds second place, just 18 seconds ahead of Nibali. The team, however, is putting its strength behind Wiggins.
“We can’t play the roulette, we need to be conservative and keep our cards in the right places,” Yates added. “If Froome went up the road, Bradley got dropped and slipped down to fourth, and then Froome fell off, then we’re stuffed. We’ve got to be calculating.”