From optimism to despair to hope within just 24 hours: cycling has a cruel way of robbing opportunity from one rider and presenting another with the chance to succeed.
Yesterday, Chris Froome set out for his recon of the stage 4 time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné with a smile on his face but within a few hours it was confirmed that he was out of the race, out of the Tour de France, and on his way to the operating theatre having suffered multiple fractures and internal injuries. He is now conscious and setting his sights on rehabilitation but his season is over, and his quest for a fifth Tour de France title shelved.
But time waits for no one, and Brailsford and the rest of the backroom staff will now have to set a new course if they are to win another Tour de France title in 2019. Froome, of course, was never a certainty for victory but his loss punches a hole straight through the squad's heart. Last year's winner Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal will surely shoulder the responsibility of leadership, although the team's directeur sportif Servais Knaven cooled any speculation that the pair's upcoming outing at the Tour de Suisse would offer a final call in determining leadership come July.
"We've not made any final decisions on that. The strongest rider from the past isn't with us this year. We have Egan and we have Geraint and they're both getting ready in the Tour de Suisse. Let's see where they are. We still have two strong leaders in the team. Of course, it's different, Geraint proved that he can win a Grand Tour. If he's at the same level as last year then we'll be in a good place," Knaven told Cyclingnews.
"Test is the wrong word," he said when asked about the relevance of Suisse.
"We don't use the word test. It's an indicator of how good they are and then you still have a few weeks to train specifically."
Bernal impressed during his Grand Tour debut last year, yo-yo-ing between being Thomas' key helper in the mountains and offering Froome valued support whenever the lead group split on the climbs. He is still just 22 years old, however, and has already had to alter his season once having missed the Giro d'Italia after a collarbone break on the eve of the race. Whether Team Ineos would trust such a young rider with sole leadership or even declare such a plan in public remains to be seen.
"He did a really good Tour last year and surprised everyone with how good he was in the mountains but this year is another year and he had some bad luck and had to change goals. It's hard to say," Knaven said when asked about the Colombian's role this July.
"Last year he wasn't riding as one of the leaders and he lost some time when it wasn't necessary. Racing three weeks full gas and not losing any time is totally different for him."
The Dauphine continues
In the immediate aftermath of Froome's horrific crash Team Ineos still have a race to win at the Critérium du Dauphiné. They were highly visible during the finale on stage 5 and Wout Poels – who was with Froome when the British rider crashed – currently sits 11th on GC, 40 seconds down on race leader Adam Yates. As much as Froome's departure has hurt the team his vacancy provides an opportunity for the man who witnessed the accident. Again, cycling has a cruel way of offering opportunities.
"You don't need to change a lot because Wout is still up there on GC. Normally Chris would have been the protected rider but now it's Wout. The others might have more freedom in certain moments but of course, it's shit what happened. Wout is going well and he proved that on stage 2 and for him this is a really nice opportunity. We're still here to prepare for the Tour and we'll see how things are in the mountains."
"We won't race like we have the yellow jersey because we don't have it. Normally if Froome was as strong as we thought then there would have been a good chance of him being in yellow. Now we're in a different place and it's always harder to gain time than defend it."
The feeling in the Team Ineos camp is still one of loss. The squad have faced phases of criticism since their inception but if Brailsford has instilled anything it's his own brazen regard of keeping the show on the road. When asked about the mood during dinner on Wednesday evening, when Froome was under the knife for six hours, Knaven paused before responding.
"It was strange. It was weird. You go and do a recon and then this happens. For the people who work really close with Froome and the riders who have spent two weeks at training camp in Tenerife, it's not easy for the head. But we now have to give our best for the coming days. That's what Froome would say and we'll keep on fighting. It's a disaster for him personally and it will take a while before he's back on the bike. He was so focused and so wanting to win the fifth Tour. What can I say? It's shit."