Tour de France - Froome enough for the both of us?
Blazin' Saddles wonders whether Team Sky have backed the wrong man for the yellow jersey after Chris Froome's climbing exploits.
Watching stage seven of the Tour de France was like travelling back in time to September's Vuelta as Team Sky pair Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome ran riot.
In the undulating final 30km and then the first summit finish of the Tour, Dave Brailsford's Royal Mail were doing their best US Postal impression as they blew the field apart on the new Planche des Belles Filles climb ahead of its precipitous 20 per cent final ramp.
Who would have thought the day could come when Australians Mick Rogers and Richie Porte were responsible for shedding seasoned climbers and GC riders such as Samuel Sanchez, Frank Schleck and Denis Menchov?
And once the antipodean man machines had done their part, off they peeled to allow Team Sky's British bulldogs — or whippets, given their slender frames — to complete arguably the most successful day in Sky's three-year history.
Froome with a few
From a handful of riders, Froome counter-attacked a last-ditch dig by isolated defending champion Cadel Evans to take his first ever stage win on the Tour and with it the famous polka dot mountains jersey. Two seconds later, Wiggins crossed the line in Evans's wheel to take his first ever yellow jersey and complete a near clean sweep.
If only Cavendish was in green and Edvald Boasson Hagen had matched the brilliant Rein Taaramae, then the British team would be riding on the front of Sunday's peloton in a near full set of colourful Olympic rings — an ideal advertisement for the London Games later this month.
As it is, they will be conspicuous enough with the maillot jaune, the polka dots and the beacon-like yellow helmets as best-placed team. What's more, if Wiggins is serious about winning the Tour (and he is) then he'll pretty much have to keep the yellow from here to Paris — given the key nature of Monday's ITT to Besancon, in which he is expected to excel.
It's a hard task asking a rider with no previous Tour podium experience to carry the burden of yellow for three more Sundays. Is Wiggins up to it?
For the time being, the Briton was just happy to have achieved "something I've dreamt of since I was a child". Far cry from the foul-mouthed lout who picked a fight with a TV cameraman in Metz, this was once again the immeasurably likeable Wiggins that we have all grown to appreciate as he opened up about his youth "watching my hero Miguel Indurain".
"The dreams have come true now and I'm sat here at the top of a mountain in yellow. It's phenomenal," said an emotional Wiggins. For a "chuffed" and "speechless" Froome, it was also "a dream come true".
No Froome at the top
The question is: which one of Sky's riders will see their dreams dashed in the fortnight to come? On the evidence of Saturday's stage, both Brits can harbour serious ambitions for a podium finish in Paris. But will this get in the way of either man securing Britain's first ever win in the Tour de France?
In the opening week of the Tour, Sky were forced to juggle the dual ambitions of GC man Wiggins and defending green jersey champion Mark Cavendish. Never before has a world champion been ostensibly treated with so much disdain from his own team; it was a 'battle' which Wiggins won as Cav was pretty much left to fend for himself.
Now Wiggins enters the next phase of Sky's race — will he come out on top again when (if) his new internal opponent becomes the very man charged with leading him to glory?
Et tu, Froomy? It happened in Spain — could it happen again? Sky possibly lost the Vuelta by putting their eggs in Wiggins's basket and not unleashing Froomasaurus Rex. They ended with both spots beside Juan Jose Cobo in Madrid — but in Paris they covet the highest tier.
Froome has now won two stages on Grand Tours plus podiumed in one, losing out by just 13 slender seconds. That's a better return for Sky from the 27-year-old than their marquee signing Wiggins, who until Saturday had but a Giro prologue, one day in pink and his third-place in the Vuelta (behind Froome) to his name.
Judging from the Vuelta and the Planche des Belles Filles, Froome has superior climbing abilities than his team leader. Wiggins is the better time triallist — although his team-mate and compatriot is hardly a Schleck in this domain. Were they on opposing teams, we'd be in for a real treat. As it is, Sky will have to play a fine balancing act: the priority may be an overall victory for Wiggins; but Froome will do after all.
The BMC team of defending champion Cadel Evans had been praised for much of the opening week for their ability to shield the Australian from all trouble. But once things got hairy in stage six, the men in black and red were nowhere to be seen. Evans was alone for most of the final climb, while Sky metronomed their way up the summit.
At the end of a testing day (and there will be many more, let's not forget), canny Evans knew how best to respond to the situation, emphasising Froome's strength but not dwelling much on the shape of his main rival.
"Froome was incredible," gushed Evans, "he rode on the front for the last 3km or something and he was able to follow me and accelerate past me."
Evans knows that his best bet in bringing down the superior Sky machine is probably sowing seeds of doubt from within. Because at the moment, Sky look pretty formidable.