Although his 1987 Giro d’Italia victory famously came after a very public battle for leadership of the Carrera team with Roberto Visentini, Stephen Roche has praised Chris Froome’s loyalty to yellow jersey wearer Bradley Wiggins and the Team Sky game plan at the 2012 Tour de France.
Froome gave his final and most emphatic demonstration of his superiority to Wiggins in the mountains on the road to Peyragudes on Thursday, turning and waiting for the maillot jaune on at least three occasions as they rode together to the finish. In spite of that strength however, Froome is destined to stand on the second step of the podium behind Wiggins in Paris on Sunday, as the team stuck rigidly to its preordained hierarchy.
"I would have done exactly what Froome did, although yesterday I would have maybe said to Bradley, ‘You’re ok, you can look after yourself now, I’m going to get the stage,’" Roche told Cyclingnews in the start village in Blagnac on Friday. "If Froome had gone his own way, he would have caught Alejandro Valverde and won the stage."
In repeatedly looking over his shoulder as he waited for Wiggins, however, some observers felt that Froome had gone out of his way to advertise the fact that he was stronger than his leader on the final climb, with Laurent Jalabert gravely noting that it was not a "beau geste."
"Ok, it looked a bit ridiculous with Froome turning around and waiting for Bradley but at the same time he had no mirrors on his bike," Roche said. "I don’t think he was doing it purposely. There was nothing malicious or bad-minded about it. He was looking behind because he was anxious and nervous but there was nothing bad about it.
"Everyone’s looking for something to write about it because the race is a bit dull. But at the same time, let’s not lose track of the whole thing and start inventing things either."
Sky versus Carrera
The turning point of Roche’s Giro win came when he attacked on the road to Sappada two weeks into the race and with the maglia rosa of Visentini 2:42 ahead on general classification. However, he believes that the definition of roles has been clearer from the outset at Sky, while the fact that Roche and Visentini had each beaten one another in early time trials in that 1987 Giro muddied the waters at Carrera still further.
"A couple of things are different," Roche said. "I was a leader on a par with Visentini, although he was the outgoing winner and had a little priority. But when I had the pink jersey, Visentini never rode for me and he then expected me to ride for him when he got the jersey but wasn’t planning a payback – he wasn’t going to come to the Tour de France and ride for me."
With 100 kilometres of time trialling in the 2012 Tour de France, Sky’s decision to appoint Wiggins as the outright leader beforehand was the logical one, according to Roche. "This is Bradley Wiggins’ Tour – he didn’t design it himself but it’s as if he did," he said. "He also had the initial upper hand on Froome this year because of his greater experience."
Even the best of plans can go awry, of course, and Roche reckons that Sky have been fortunate in at least two regards in this Tour. "Froome had a bad first week and lost time, which is probably lucky for Sky because then they could have had problems," he said. "Secondly, he’s a good guy. Somebody else might have had a bad mentality and tried to get time out of Wiggins, but last week when he looked behind and saw Wiggins getting distanced, he backed off when somebody else might have kept going. It showed a good mentality and it was very gentlemanly."
In twelve months’ time, however, Roche believes the roles may well be reversed at Sky, depending on the route, with the Irishman firm in his belief that Froome should stay put at the team.
"Next year, when we get other riders back in the race and more attacking in the mountains and a little more acceleration, I think it will be Froome’s Tour," he said. "Bradley has a good tempo on the hills but when it comes to accelerations, he hasn’t got it. He can’t lift it and next year he isn’t going to get any better I think. So Froome has every interest in staying where he is and Wiggins should be happy that Froome is there as well."