Team Sky directeur sportif Servais Knaven has cleared up the Tour de France leadership situation at Team Sky, insisting that Chris Froome is the undoubted team leader, and that Geraint Thomas remains a back-up option.
There were question marks even before the race, with Thomas angling for something more than the 'Plan B' status he has had in the past couple of editions of the Tour, and they have only intensified as Thomas has moved clear of his teammate in the overall standings in the first week.
Froome's times losses – 51 seconds in an opening-day crash and another handful on the Mûr-de-Bretagne – coupled with Thomas' more minor gains through bonus seconds, have seen a gap of 1:02 open between them.
Since arriving in France, Thomas has insisted it will be a case of getting through the first week, over the cobbles and into the mountains, where a hierarchy should naturally establish itself. Knaven, however, doesn't see it that way.
"Two leaders? We have one leader and one back-up leader," he told Cyclingnews in Amiens on Saturday.
"Froomey has won six Grand Tours, so he is our leader – no doubt. And 'G' is riding really well, so he can have his opportunity as well to do a good GC. But Froomey is the one that is the leader.
"He is a little bit behind because of the crash, but for sure nothing has changed since the start of the Tour. We'll see, and if anything has to change, we can change things later."
Knaven confirmed that Thomas will have a free role on Sunday's cobbled stage to Roubaix, but that the team's resources would primarily be pooled around Froome.
Thomas suggested on Friday that, amid the predicted chaos, it will be a case of every man for himself, saying, "Your teammates can help you a bit, but a lot of the time you kind of just have to find yourself on your own and do it yourself a bit."
Knaven doesn't see it that way.
"No. We are a team. We are Team Sky. Together you achieve more," he hit back. "G is following Froomey, or Froomey is following G, and they'll be behind someone who will keep them in position, so it's pretty straightforward. Two is easier than three.
"If Froomey has a problem, riders will wait for him, and we have people on the road and everything. So it's not so different to a normal stage. If Froomey has an issue then everyone has to wait, except G. That's pretty normal I think."
Of the two riders, Thomas has the greater pedigree on the cobbles. He enjoyed success as a Classics rider before making the transition to become a stage racer, winning E3-Harelbeke in 2015 and finishing seventh at the 2014 edition of Paris-Roubaix – a race that Sunday's stage has borrowed heavily from.
Froome rarely races on anything other than tarmac, although he was a mountain biker in his younger years, and put in a solid shift on the Tour's last visit to the cobbles in 2015.
"He can ride the cobbles," said Knaven, who won Paris-Roubaix in 2001. "He showed that three years ago when he was in the first group, and was even pulling on the cobbles. I've seen him in the recon, and he's going well on the cobbles.
"He's strong, he's confident. The only thing is that anything can happen, with crashes and flat tyres," continued Knaven. "That's the only issue for Chris. If he has no bad luck, he'll be in a good position."
As such, Knaven argued that, while many GC riders and teams are treating Sunday simply as an exercise in survival, Sky see it as more of an opportunity.
"If you go into it with the mentality of trying to seize opportunities, and looking forward to it, it's always better than being afraid of it. When you're afraid of the cobbles, you're already a few steps behind.
"Our guys are really confident and looking forward to it. I see it as an opportunity to maybe gain some time on some of the other GC contenders."
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