Sir Bradley Wiggins has claimed Team Sky will have a “real problem on their hands” if Geraint Thomas takes the yellow jersey in the Tour de France ahead of Chris Froome.
Thomas sits second to Greg Van Avermaet in the general classification after nine stages, 43 seconds off yellow and 59 seconds ahead of Froome as the race heads towards the Alps.
Though Sky have insisted Froome remains the team leader, Thomas has been given licence to race for himself through the first part of the Tour and 2012 winner Wiggins foresees trouble if he remains ahead.
“This is where it gets difficult, as we hit first mountain stage,” the ex-Sky rider said on Eurosport’s The Bradley Wiggins Show. “If Geraint stays where he is and takes the yellow jersey, they’ve got a real problem on their hands.”
Wiggins said that Sir Dave Brailsford would be “in the ears” of both riders telling them they can win the Tour in order to keep them motivated, suggesting the team principal can be “divisive” and “self-serving” at such times.
“Does Dave B come in and do his usual and be quite divisive and get in each other’s ear and kind of keep them both motivated for the same goal and there be a natural selection?
“Dave will certainly be in both of their ears and be telling them they can both win it, as a way of motivating them, as a way of playing these cards deep in to the race and let the natural selections come in to play.”
Wiggins added of Brailsford: “He’s quite self-serving. For him, it’s about the team winning – it’s not about the individuals or the characters. He will always be in those riders’ ears constantly, and he has been up till now as you can see.”
Speaking after a rest day training ride on Monday, Froome and Thomas downplayed the situation.
“I think the race, as always, will decide (leadership),” Froome said. “For us, it’s fantastic to have different cards to play. Movistar have come here with three leading riders (Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde), and with only one GC contender it becomes difficult to cover all three.
“If you look at all the GC riders, ‘G’ is right up there. It’s for other teams to attack us now.”
Thomas added that it was speculative to even discuss it before a single mountain stage.
“I think it’s a bit early to be talking about that,” he said. “Maybe if I’m still right there after Alpe d’Huez (on Thursday), it’s a bit different then. But we haven’t done a proper climb yet. I’m certainly not getting carried away.”
Asked if he had spoken to Froome about it, Thomas said: “We’ve kind of spoken in general about things. And yeah, he’s keen for me to try… If I do have the chance to stay up there, to let me have that, you know? But we’re honest with each other.”
Brailsford was not present at Sky’s media access on Monday.
Riding as his domestique, Froome finished second to Wiggins in 2012, and famously appeared to attack his team leader on La Toussuire on stage 11 before sitting up and waiting for him – a moment interpreted as Froome showing he was strong enough to win on his own.
But Froome rejected any comparison between that race and this.
“He (Thomas) is riding extremely well and, like I said earlier, it just puts us in an even better place,” he said. “It’s a totally different situation (to 2012).”
The Tour will head straight into the mountains after Monday’s rest day, with Tuesday’s stage 10 taking the peloton over four categorised climbs in 158.5km of racing between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornand.
Stage 10 (Annecy – Le Grand-Bornand)
The first mountain stage of the tour – there is a lot of climbing, but I think someone like Dan Martin could relish that. The last climb, Colombiere, I have done before and it is a really hard one. The final downhill stretch is very technical with lots of twists and turns. The whole day is so hard and I expect there to be no big groups when they start the last climb.
Stage 11 (Albertville – La Rosière)
This is quite a short race, but we could see attacks on the opening climb. Normally when the stage is so short like this, it’s difficult for the breakaway to keep the distance because everyone is going out full gas. It will be an important battleground for the GC guys, but I know that there will be sprinters who will look at this stage and hate it. For them it will be about surviving!
Stage 12 (Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arc – Alpe d’Huez)
The Alpe d’Huez is one of the most famous climbs in the Tour de France – but a super hard climb! The stage in general is hard to reserve any energy, with just 20km before the first climb starts. When I look at a stage like this, it could be a good one for the breakaway.
Stage 13 (Bourg d’Oisans – Valence)
We have had a few days in the mountains by this point, so this one is certainly for the sprinters. The teams will group and work together to try and ensure a sprint finish and get the victory. The breakaway might have some opportunities to go, but I can’t look past the sprinters, especially Alexander Kristoff who I think will be so keen to fight for the stage win.
Stage 14 (Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux – Mende)
This route could be a perfect opportunity for the breakaway. If Darwin Atapuma goes with the main group, and can stay with them, we could see a repeat performance of his impressive attempt at victory in last year’s Stage 18.
Stage 15 (Millau – Carcassonne)
It is going to be a tough day at the saddle. The route is up and down, until you come to the finish, where the quicker riders on the downhill could make a break for it. But I know there is a sharp turn going into the final kilometre which could make the race interesting should there be a small group sprinting for the win. Riders will go all out knowing they have a rest day tomorrow.
It was a brutal day of racing for UAE Team Emirates as they battled through stage nine with over 22 kilometres of cobbles to contend with.
General Classification contender Dan Martin, who had sustained injuries in Saturday’s eighth stage, stayed safe in the peloton peloton and finished 32nd.
The Irishman was carefully chaperoned to the front of the race by Oliviero Troia and finally delivered to the line with the main bunch after nearly three and half hours of chaotic racing.
After dropping down the GC table in Saturday’s race, Martin’s impressive effort allowed him to recover seven positions and climb up to the 24th spot.
He is now just 3 mins 22 seconds behind the yellow jersey leader Greg van Avermaet – a time deficit that can be made up when the Tour heads to the mountains next week.
Alexander Kristoff also finished in the main group with the Norwegian taking 11th spot and earning another eight points in the green jersey standings.
Commenting on the stage, Martin said: “That was incredibly hard and I have a new level of respect for the guys that ride Paris-Roubaix. It was an amazing experience and – in a strange way – I loved every minute.
“It would have been nicer without all the crashes, but at the end of the day my bike was faultless, we made it to the finish line and we’re still in the fight for the podium.
Even after the crash on Saturday, the team still believes in me 100%, so I have to give it everything.
“I stayed relaxed and composed, made sure I ate and drank before the cobbled sections and hung back when I needed to, knowing that the team would help me pick my way back to the front when the time was right.”