Notes from the Scrum: Froome attacks on the road, in the bus

Who’d have known the only team that could beat Sky was Sky itself?

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PAU, France (VN) — Et tu, Chris?

Just a hunch, but I don’t think Chris Froome will be handing teammate Bradley Wiggins his bike if things go sideways for the maillot jaune in the Pyrénées this week. And it won’t be because the two aren’t the same size, though Froome would certainly say that.

Froome dropped Bradley Wiggins on a climb in the Alps. Now, he’s dropping him in the press. It’s a sophisticated plan by letting all of us see that he could drop his captain, then reaching further, putting pressure on Wiggins inside the bus far greater than any rival has been able, in saying he’d go with attacks in the mountains if Wiggins couldn’t.

Friends like these, huh Bradley?

The Kenya-born Briton finally said what was on his mind over the weekend to the French newspaper L’Equipe, labeling his efforts in France for Wiggins as a “a very, very great sacrifice.”

“I could win this Tour, but not at Sky. I cannot lie to you, it’s difficult, but it’s my job,” he said told the newspaper.

Ouch. Not exactly super domestique stuff. Then again, Froome could have won the Vuelta a España last year had he been the team leader, and he doesn’t seem keen on what-ifs any longer.

It appeared initially that Froome was resigned to second place in France (where he currently resides, 2:05 back of Wiggins). But even that is unclear, given the fact that Froome said that if there’s an attack that Wiggins can’t follow, then he’s going.

“If I feel that the Tour can be lost,” Froome told L’Equipe, “I will follow the best riders, be that [Cadel] Evans or [Vincenzo] Nibali, to preserve our chance and be sure of Sky’s presence.”

Imagine that. A top domestique hoping his leader gets dropped.

When asked in a ferocious media scrum in the Alps if he’d lament the races he could have won five years from now, Froome, somehow smiling and gritting his teeth at the same time, said that he’d think about that in five years, but for now was just doing his job. It’s worth noting that Froome, following his attack, gave interviews smiling and now seems as if he thought about that this week instead of next year, and is reconsidering.

The problem is that now, Sky is more vulnerable only due to itself. Nibali and Evans will attack not to stay away but to isolate Wiggins and Froome from one another. It’s absolutely surreal. Sky was unbeatable, and is now trying to beat itself. Imagine if Froome leaves Wiggins chasing Nibali and the two end up working together to stay away. It was unconscionable that Wiggins could lose this Tour after the time trial. Now, he could lose it to one of his own.

You think those guys sit next to each other at dinner these days? Even their significant others quarreled recently on Twitter. Publicly, the team’s manager, Dave Brailsford said he supported Froome’s position.

“I think his comments were fair, I think they were measured. It just goes to show that he’s a real intelligent guy. He’s here. He’s part of the team. We recognize he’s got his own ambitions and would like to fulfill those,” Brailsford said. Really? Does Bradley Wiggins know about this?

All of this is nothing new, but it’s certainly something unexpected. The situation is of course similar to the famous 1986 Tour, in which La Vie Claire’s Bernard Hinault ran the nerves of teammate Greg LeMond through a blast furnace for three weeks.

Hinault, in the gloaming of his career, lit up the race, with long-range attacks that he said were only to tire LeMond’s rivals and pressure the other contenders. They only served to fry LeMond, terrifying the American. LeMond won that Tour, but it was far more difficult than it should have been, much like this is now for Wiggins, even if we can’t all see it.

This will all most likely come down to the final time trial, and Froome will, in theory, be too far behind to make up any real time on Wiggins, a superior time trialist. He’ll try, though, and the two won’t be able to race on the same team next year, even if that’s the contract situation at present. That’s the likely ending for an unlikely story. But, there are the subjectivities and the nuances. The things we can’t know yet. The tacks in the road, so to say.

But who’d have known the only team that could beat Sky was Sky itself?

Reporter Matthew Beaudin files his Notes From the Scrum from time to time, offering up the insights of a Tour de France rookie.

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