As well as conjecture about what would happen in the first major time trial, the Tour de France press room has been abuzz with discussion of how Team Sky will deal with the challenge that Bradley Wiggins could face from within his team from Chris Froome. Will we see a re-run of the Vuelta, many eagerly wonder? Last September, Wiggins went into that race as Sky’s leader, but finished a step below his teammate on the podium.
Speak to anyone within the Sky set-up, however, and there’s no question of this situation arising. The British team is riding the Tour win the sole aim of winning the title in Paris. If they finish with two men on the podium so much the better, but the priority is to have one man on the top step rather than two in second and third as they did at the Vuelta.
Speaking in the moments after Wiggins’ victory in the Besançon time trial, Sky’s head coach underlined the team’s sole objective. “You can forget any kind of talk about trying to defend third place,” he said, immediately squashing any suggestion of an internecine battle between Wiggins and Froome.
“We’re here to win the Tour. We set out on this journey with a mission to win the Tour with a British rider. We’ve got one lying first and one lying third at the moment, and winning is still the ultimate goal. We won’t be holding back and trying to get X amount of people on the podium. We’re here to win the Tour. For now it’s all hands on deck for Brad. Froomey’s more than capable of winning this Tour if something happens to Brad, but at this moment in time we’re all behind Wiggins.”
Sutton acknowledged that having Froome in third place does give the team some useful options. “There’s strength in numbers and having Chris up there as well gives a little bit of freedom to use other cards if we need them,” he said. “Froomey did a great ride today, just like he did at the Vuelta last year. He and Brad rode well there together and I’m sure they will ride well here together.”
Sutton also admitted that he had expected Cadel Evans to finish closer to Wiggins in the Besançon test. “I did expect Cadel to close the gap down a little bit, but I think that just goes to show you that Brad had a bit of form to come as well. I think Cadel’s in better form, but Brad’s kept the gap the same. The press who were saying that Brad’s overcooked it were wrong. I’ve been working with the sports scientists and with Brad to get this right. [Sky’s head of performance science] Tim Kerrison is a really clever guy and we were never going to overcook this.”
Sutton confessed that both he and Wiggins have learned something from Evans as well. “The one thing Brad and I have always talked about with regard to Cadel is that he’s got a real fighting quality. That’s one thing that Brad didn’t have previously and I think we’ve learned from what Cadel did last year. Brad has said to me, ‘That guy fights all the time.’ I told him, ‘That’s what you’ve got to do, Brad.’”
Looking ahead beyond the rest day, Sutton said he expects Sky to take a strong grip on the race, with guidance from Sean Yates. “We’ve got a great DS in Sean and he’ll call the shots from the team car. As far as I’m concerned we’ve done our bit in trying to get the boys here in the best shape possible. Tim’s been incredible and he can take real credit from that performance from Bradley and Froomey today. Ultimately, it’s down to Sean to call the shots now and get us over the line, and who could be better in the car to do it?”