The Tour de France arrived at the foot of the Alps after the long transfer from Roubaix yet continued dishing the dirt, on and off the road. As Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas faced up to the gravel roads of stage 10 to Le Grand Bornand, Bradley Wiggins was stirring the pot back home, fuelling talk of leadership battles between Team Sky's co-leaders.
Famously, Wiggins and Froome fell out during the 2012 Tour when the Olympic champion threatened to walk out on his team, even while wearing the leader’s yellow jersey, after Froome had attacked on the climb to La Toussuire. The pair’s feud has continued since then, with Wiggins’s wife Cath labelling Froome a “slithering reptile” on social media only last year.
Even at a distance the bad blood persists. Speaking on Eurosport, Wiggins said Team Sky will have a “real problem on their hands” if Thomas, as expected, takes the race leader’s yellow jersey in Tuesday’s first Alpine stage, which climbs the gravel road of the Plateau des Glières.
“This is where it gets difficult, as we hit the first mountain stage,” Wiggins said. “If Geraint stays where he is and takes the yellow jersey they’ve got a real problem on their hands. Both riders have got this joint leadership role, but that’s dangerous. But the quality they have in that team, they could end up first or second.”
Wiggins continued, describing the Team Sky principal, Dave Brailsford, as "divisive" and "self-serving." He said: "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 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. 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.”
Froome was dismissive of Wiggins’ comments. “It’s not going to happen,” he said when asked if tensions were developing within the team.
“If you look at all the general classification riders, Geraint is right up there,” he said. “It’s for other teams to attack us now. He’s riding extremely well and, like I said earlier, it just puts us in an even better place. It’s a totally different situation [to 2012].”
Thomas too played a dead bat. “It’s a bit early to be talking about that,” he said. “Maybe if I’m still right there after Alpe d’Huez, it’s a bit different then. But we haven’t done a proper climb yet. I’m certainly not getting carried away.”
But the Welshman added that he and Froome had “spoken about things”. Thomas said: “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.”
Meanwhile the discontent over the proximity of race vehicles to certain riders grew with Trek-Segafredo rider Toms Skujins the latest to criticise the race organisation for allowing drafting during the ninth stage to Roubaix.
"After sector four [of the cobbles] I was caught by the group with Movistar chasing. Mikel Landa was there and then later on, Romain Bardet, " the Latvian said. "We definitely had some situations when the cars shouldn't have been there.
“First of all it was dangerous. But there were a couple of times when I thought we were going suddenly a little bit too fast – we were doing 55-plus kilometres an hour on flat, maybe slightly uphill roads, and then looking up you see the motorbike.”
“You can’t blame the riders for using the motos. We use every single advantage you can get on the road. But it would be great to have the motos maybe stay a little further away.”
Slipstreaming motorbikes and race vehicles is unlikely to prove that helpful during the coming three Alpine stages, which include 12 categorised climbs and two summit finishes. Stage 10 takes the peloton to Le Grand Bornand, while Wednesday and Thursday’s summit finishes climb to La Rosière and the Alpe respectively.
Froome described stage 10 as a “tough little stage”, but added that “it’s definitely going to start shaping the general classification”.
"I'd imagine guys like Greg Van Avermaet are going to find it very hard to hang on. It's a proper climber's stage. Over the next three days we'll see exactly that."
By the time the peloton has descended the Col de la Colombière to Le Grand Bornand, Van Avermaet’s tenure of the maillot jaune will certainly be over. The real question though is which of Team Sky’s leaders will prove to be the best option on final victory in Paris.