Another Tour de France rest day, another Team Sky storm. Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome took their seats in the cramped driveway of a Hotel Campanile in Carcassonne to find that the newsworthiness of their unspoken duel for overall victory had been overtaken by events.
Gianni Moscon's expulsion from the Tour on Sunday for striking Elie Gesbert (Fortuneo-Samsic) was the latest addition to the Italian's lengthy rap sheet of distasteful behaviour and yet another public relations misstep for a team that has already been jeered and booed on this Tour by fans sceptical about the credibility of their performances in the wake of Froome's salbutamol case.
"Obviously, I was disappointed, but there's nothing we can do. What's done is done," Thomas said when asked about Moscon's disqualification. "We'll try and focus on this last week. We've still got a strong team. We're a rider down, but I think all the boys will rally together now and bring us together."
Froome later echoed Thomas' words: "As 'G' said, the whole team is incredibly disappointed in Gianni's actions and disappointed to be a man down for the last week."
Thomas and Froome were on the same page, too, when conversation turned to the race itself, where they occupy the top two places on general classification on the eve of the entry into the Pyrenees. The Welshman has worn the yellow jersey since winning atop La Rosière on Wednesday, and is currently 1:39 ahead of Froome, while Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) is third, a further 11 seconds back.
Even after winning again atop Alpe d'Huez the following day, Thomas dutifully insisted that Froome remained his team leader. He has never placed higher than 15th overall at the Tour [in both 2015 and 2016 - ed.], and on Monday, he downplayed the idea that anything short of wearing yellow into Paris would be a disappointment given his current position of strength.
"Winning is still nothing I really think about, I'm just thinking day by day," Thomas said. "Coming here the dream was to be in with a shout of getting the podium. It's still on the cards, which is good, but I'm just trying to keep the same mindset as I have done from the start."
Froome, for his part, is chasing a fifth Tour victory in six years and is seeking to become the eighth rider to win the Giro d'Italia and Tour in the same season. Much like Bernard Hinault in 1986 or Stephen Roche at the 1987 Giro, it seems difficult to imagine that Froome will be content to sacrifice his own ambitions to help marshal Thomas through the Pyrenees.
"As long as there's a Team Sky rider on the top step of that podium in Paris, I'm happy," Froome said carefully. "We're in this amazing position, we're first and second on the classification, it's not up to us to be attacking. It's for all other riders in the peloton to make up time on us and dislodge us from the position we're in.
Despite the disarming collective strength of Team Sky to this point, it would be remiss to suggest that the final contest for the maillot jaune will simply be a local row. Tom Dumoulin, second at the Giro, lurks with intent, while Primoz Roglic (4th at 2:38) has quietly emerged as an outside threat.
Froome acknowledged that the Sky duo would need to build a bigger advantage ahead of Saturday's time trial to Espelette.
"I think the dream scenario would be to go into that time trial as we are, first and second on general classification, but with a decent gap on our other rivals, so the victory isn't in jeopardy in that last time trial. With Tom Dumoulin and Primoz Roglic in 4th as well, two very strong time triallists, that's a concern, obviously," said Froome.
"[Dumoulin] is a different type of rider to ride against than my rivals in the past, guys like [Alberto] Contador, [Nairo] Quintana and even [Vincenzo] Nibali for example. The way I view it is that he's a time triallist who's learned and trained himself to come into Grand Tour riding. He's quite happy to drop off a few metres behind the main group when there's big accelerations. He doesn't ride necessarily on feelings alone, he's more calculated and planned. It's a very different dynamic racing against Tom compared to a lot of other guys."
And yet, the prospect of an internecine battle between Thomas and Froome - who is competing at the Tour after anti-doping charges against him were dropped just days before the start - continues to feel like the dominant narrative thread of the race. History has a habit of repeating itself on the Tour but unlike in the case of Hinault and Greg LeMond, for instance, there has been no public enmity between Froome and Thomas.
"We're good mates. We've ridden in the same team for a number of years now, it must be 10 or maybe even 11. We've generally lived in the same area as well and trained together. And we just get on," Thomas said, and joked: "For now, anyway."
The two men have been teammates since 2008, dating back to their time at Barloworld, though their trajectories have been radically difficult since moving to Team Sky in 2010. The squad began life with the aim of winning the Tour de France within five years with a British rider, and Thomas might have fitted the profile, given his age, his range of talents and his experience in British Cycling's track programme. Froome, on the other hand, arrived at the team with little fanfare, but was suddenly bumped up the pecking order after his dramatic leap in quality in the summer of 2011.
"It's pretty surreal in a way, thinking back to when we both started out on Barloworld, back in 2008, 2009 for me. I don't think either of us would have believed we'd be sitting here today in the position that we're in, with myself having won four Tours and going into the last week of this Tour as first and second in general classification," Froome said. "I don't think either of us would have believed it back then."
Judging from the reaction on the roadside, they are not the only ones.