Legendary French cycling manager Cyrille Guimard heaped extra fuel on the Team Sky leadership fire in an extensive interview in French sports newspaper L'Equipe on Sunday by saying that Sky's two leaders – Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome, who sit in first and second place overall, respectively, ahead of stage 16 – both think that they can win this year's Tour de France, and that there's no 'understanding' between them.
"I imagine that [Team Sky principal] Dave Brailsford had Thomas ready to replace Froome when his salbutamol case came to light across the winter, not knowing whether Froome would be suspended," said Guimard.
"So when Thomas won the Critérium du Dauphiné in such a convincing manner, beating many of his rivals for the Tour, he couldn't then very well arrive at the start of the race in Noirmoutier and say, 'I'll give my wheel to Chris if he needs one on the cobbles.'
"From what we saw at La Rosière and at Alpe d'Huez" – both stages won by Thomas – "there's no understanding between the two of them, and there won't be. When you've won four Tours de France like Froome has, you don't just give up on the opportunity to win a fifth."
As a directeur sportif, Guimard won no fewer than seven Tour de France titles, guiding three riders to victory: Lucien Van Impe in 1976, Bernard Hinault to four of his five Tour victories, in 1978, 1979, 1981 and 1982, and Laurent Fignon to both of his Tour wins in 1983 and 1984.
Guimard pointed to the fact that, after winning on Alpe d'Huez this year, Thomas said that at the 2015 Tour – when he'd been fourth overall going into the last three stages before blowing up and fading to 15th place in Paris – he hadn't been targeting the overall classification, but that things were different this year.
"It was as if to say, 'This year, it's my turn,'" said 71-year-old Guimard, who was no slouch as a professional rider himself, winning seven Tour de France stages in the early 1970s.
Heading into the Pyrenees on Tuesday should prove to be crunch time when it comes to answering the question of who the stronger rider is out of Thomas and Froome, and Guimard was veritably licking his lips at the prospect of what was to come.
"As always at the Tour, the road will decide," said Guimard. "The weather is very changeable in the Pyrenees, and we could see temperatures rise to 35ºC. There could also be thunderstorms, gravel on the road...
"And Froome is a better descender than Thomas," he added, somewhat erroneously, as both riders are extremely proficient.
Guimard also pointed to Froome's show of strength as the better climber at the 2012 Tour, when he had to work for then Team Sky leader, and eventual race winner, Bradley Wiggins.
"Just like Hinault, Froome won't want to lose. He won't hand victory to his teammate Thomas in the same way that he had to cede the win to Wiggins six years ago."
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