Geraint Thomas played down any potential leadership issues within Team Sky after taking a resounding stage 11 win at La Rosiere, and with it the yellow jersey. Thomas attacked a group of GC contenders, including his teammate Chris Froome, with five kilometres remaining on the first summit finish of the race.
The Welshman's attack brought him towards an earlier move that included Tom Dumoulin, and with just over one kilometre to go Thomas attacked for a second time to take the stage and the lead. He now tops the overall standings with Froome – who also attacked several times and finished third on the stage – in second overall at 1:25. After two days in the Alps, Team Sky occupy the first two steps on the podium, with Dumoulin, Vincenzo Nibali and a host of other names scattered throughout the top ten.
For Thomas, this marks a new step in his career. He, of course, wore yellow in the 2017 Tour after winning the opening time trial, but Wednesday's triumph marks his first mountain stage, and the Critérium du Dauphiné winner is certainly in the form of his life. Behind him sits Froome, the four-time Tour champion and recent victor of the Giro d'Italia and, according to Thomas, the real leader of Team Sky's Tour squad.
"Obviously Froome is the leader. He's won six Grand Tours and for me, it's an unknown. It was more a case of trying to get through the stage and stay in the position that we're in and try not to lose time on GC. It was more of an opportunity and instinct when I went," Thomas said in his press conference.
As the dust settled atop La Rosiere several points began to surface – the sort that don't often appear obvious in the heat of the battle. For instance, Froome's attack with Dan Martin and then his acceleration to drop the Irishman neatly matched the kicks from Thomas both in terms of timing and opportunity.
This was choreographed dominance. Froome's moves were also the clearest indication yet that he is the leader, and that the hot topic of Team Sky's leadership is moot unless Thomas continues to lead the race into the Pyrenees. Perhaps for some, the thirst for a perceived controversy over leadership is somewhat easier to digest than the reality of Team Sky's one-two dominance, and the fact that despite Movistar's earlier assault with Valverde and Soler, the British team still had six men in the front group as the final climb began in earnest.
"Froome knows how to win a three-week race and for me whatever happens now it's been an amazing Tour and it's been an amazing feeling," Thomas said.
"To have the jersey, I'm super happy with that. Obviously, I'd love to stay up and on the podium as long as possible but the main thing is winning. Froome is still our best chance and there's still over half the race to go."
"It was tough out there, and hot and hard. We were expecting attacks and when Valverde went it was hard. We were under pressure for sure, especially when he was 1:50 ahead. Dumoulin went as well but the boys stuck together and we rode together. That's our strength and there are no egos in the team. The dynamic of the team works really well. It might look boring but it's tough."
The most interesting moment during Thomas' press conference came when one journalist asked if he would have counter-attacked Froome in the manner in which Froome had done.
"I probably would have ridden with Dan as well," he said after a pause.
"It's a good position for the team. Dan has lost of bit of time in crashes and stuff and this was more about trying to distance the other guys as well. I was sat on Dumoulin and Froome was coming across. It's just a great position for the team.
"It's just how I feel. Some guys might sit here and give some PR bullshit but that's how it is with me," he added when asked whether he felt comfortable towing the party line.
"Froome is the leader. I'm not going to sit up and lose time but it's an unknown for me to race over the three weeks. It's an ideal scenario at the moment and long way to continue."
Asked if he would sacrifice his own chances to help Froome, Thomas responded:
"It depends on the situation and what's going on in the race and how the team want to ride but if I have to pull towards the end then I will. We'll see."
The waiting and seeing was the mantra used when Chris Froome was asked about Thursday's stage to Alpe d'Huez. The defending Tour champion is in the best position possible at this point in the Tour. He has a loyal teammate in the race lead and can put his feet up in the team bus while Thomas goes through the motions of anti-doping and press responsibilities. Remaining out of the yellow jersey also keeps Froome away from the limelight and Froome couldn't hide his delight in Team Sky's current position on GC.
"It's an amazing position for us, I don't think we quite expected that going into today's stage. I think initially everybody thought Alpe d'Huez would be the more decisive and it very well still could be. It puts us in a fantastic position going into tomorrow's stage," Froome told Eurosport after today's finish.
"I think it was a spur of the moment thing but it made sense, it was perfect. We didn't even have to talk, it was the right thing for Geraint to do and push on there. I let the wheel go because I knew it would put the onus on the rest of the guys to chase."
"He [Dan Martin] put in a big acceleration there, I was surprised I was the only one that held on to his wheel but Dan's ridden really well, I think he's trying to make up time as well from when he crashed and lost a bit of time. I think the main guy who stands out as a bit of a threat right now is Tom Dumoulin, he rode a very impressive stage today I guess it depends on how everyone is going to back up tomorrow because tomorrow is a really big stage.
Wait and see but at this point, Team Sky have the race under their spell.
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