Team Sky denied they had a leadership battle brewing at the Tour de France despite Geraint Thomas sitting more than a minute clear of Chris Froome after seven stages.
Froome lost almost a minute to his team-mate on the opening stage of the Tour when he crashed in a field five kilometres from the finish, and gave up another five seconds when he was gapped slightly on the Mur-de-Bretagne on Thursday. Froome now trails Thomas by 59 seconds, sitting 65 seconds off Greg Van Avermaet in yellow.
Froome has not been alone in losing time with almost every general classification contender suffering some kind of incident so far, whether a crash, a mechanical, or time losses in Monday’s team time trial.
The only exception is the man they call ‘G’, who sits three seconds off Van Avermaet in yellow and, as the winner of the traditional pre-Tour warm-up race the Criterium du Dauphine, has every right to be considered a serious contender himself.
But Team Sky sport director Nico Portal, the man who calls the shots in the team car, insisted nothing had changed in terms of leadership.
“Chris Froome has won six Grand Tours and the last three he has participated in,” Portal said. “He is our leader.
“But we have got ‘G’. He’s done really well so we want to support him. It’s good to have ‘G’ in the mix as well. It opens up more options in the second and third weeks if you have some strategies.”
“It’s great for us to have other cards to play,” the four-time winner said. “This race is brutal so let’s see as it goes on, but it’s definitely a strong position, especially with some of our rivals having two or three options to play.”
Thomas came to the race as Sky’s ‘Plan G’, given a free hand to race at least until the Alps, at which point the team may need to implement a more focused strategy depending on the standings.
Even if Froome is the leader, Portal said Thomas – who is in the final months of his Sky contract but is expected to sign a new three-year deal – remains a protected rider.
“We want to protect him and give him as much chance as possible, he deserves it,” the Frenchman said. “For us it’s not really complicated. We can support both of them.”
With a nervous day expected on Sunday’s cobbled stage nine to Roubaix before the race even moves to the Alps, Thomas said it was too soon for anything to be decisive.
“It’s just getting through the cobbles as best as possible, attacking it for sure and getting into the Alps,” he said.
“I’ll have to get through the Alps and see how I am, see how Froomey is and go from there. A hell of a lot can happen between now and the end of all that.”