So far, Sky has proven quite adept at handling what’s been an explosive race.
Wiggins and Froome both avoided disastrous crashes in the first week that took out the likes of Giro d’Italia champion Ryder Hesjdal (Garmin-Sharp) and Olympic champion Samuel Sánchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi), though Froome did lose 1:25 when he punctured with 15km to go in stage 1 in Liège.
Sky’s dominance blew up the race unexpectedly Saturday on the road to Belles Filles and controlled a frenetic run across the Jura Mountains on Saturday that saw the peloton to come completely unglued.
The longer, grinding climbs looming in the Alps suit Wiggins and Froome even better, meaning that Evans, Nibali or anyone hoping to tip the Sky boat will have to pull something out of the hat. Sky, however, will not be taking it sitting down. Team principal David Brailsford said the best defense could be going back on the offensive.
“This is a long way from being a formality,” Brailsford said. “We cannot just sit back and wait for them to come at us. We are not afraid to stick our nose in the wind and we’ve shown we’ve been willing to do that all season.”
Froome, at least publicly, is committed to helping Wiggins win the yellow jersey. How that dynamic plays out over the coming days remains to be seen.
If someone like Nibali or van Garderen attacks, will Sky keep Froome with Wiggins, or send him up the road? The latter would provoke a move from Evans, so Sky will have to try to play a balancing act to keep Wiggins in yellow and his rivals at bay. That means they might have to sacrifice Froome’s podium spot.
“Our tactic is to try to win the Tour de France – full stop. You do not have to be Einstein to figure that out,” Yates said. “In all due respect, we are doing a good job. We are looking after Bradley, and we are doing it in the most economical way, with the long-term goal of winning in Paris.”
The opening 10 days of racing proved one thing: Wiggins is the strongest in the race and Sky is ready to back him in his historic bid to become the U.K.’s first Tour winner.
One question mark that remains, however, is Wiggins’ ability to carry the pressure of the yellow jersey for nearly two more weeks.
Wiggins has proven he can go the distance in a grand tour, finishing fourth in the 2009 Tour and earning his first grand tour podium with third last year at the Vuelta. But it’s a massive leap from following the wheels to defending yellow for more than two weeks at the Tour de France.
His major victories this season have come in week-long stage races, but during each of those wins, Sky worked hard to protect Wiggins through a variety of scenarios. Yates says the team is up to the task of carrying Wiggins victorious to Paris.
“You can never discount a bad day, can you?” Yates said. “Time will tell. This is what Bradley’s been training for. The plan all season long has been for Bradley to be at his strongest during the Tour. We have the team to protect him.”
In fact, that inevitable “bad day” could be the only hope that the likes of Evans and Nibali have to knock him off his game. A crash, a bonk, an illness or a loss of concentration have derailed greater men in the Tour’s past.
Wiggins says he’s trying to stay focused on the process of racing without letting himself get swept up with the euphoria that’s building across the English Channel. With half the Tour to go, Wiggins knows he’s still a very long way from Paris.
“I am not trying to get too carried away with the emotions,” Wiggins said. “I didn’t sleep that night after taking the jersey. I let that slightly get to me, but that’s why I do sport, that’s why I love it. I need to stay focused and check off the boxes one day at a time.”
Nothing’s won in cycling until crossing the finish line and Wiggins wants to keep reminding himself of that every day as he pedals closer to an historic win still nearly two weeks away in Paris.
If he can roll out of the Pyrénées with the yellow jersey still on his back, then the British can put the champagne on ice.