Blazin' Saddles

Froome at the top

Blazin' Saddles

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So, the ITT in Salamanca went pretty much as expected, right? Tony Martin taking the win and Team Sky moving into the red jersey. Yawn.

That's what the script said - although no one probably thought that the man in red would be Chris Froome and not Bradley Wiggins.

Indeed, after 13km - and with Wiggo leading at the first check - such a notion would have been laughed down as much as the time when, in June 2008, some journeyman reporter said he had a hunch Carlos Sastre might do something special on the Tour de France...

It started ominously for Team Sky. With rules stating that team-mates cannot follow each other, 13th placed Bradley Wiggins was forced to swap with 12th placed Dan Martin, winner of Sunday's stage, so that the Irishman from Garmin-Cervelo would keep the two Brits apart.

This enforced separation of Wiggins and Froome was the first thing to have split the two riders over 10 days of racing in Spain. Indeed, a cynic might have pre-empted Wiggins' dip over the final section of the ITT, saying something facetious about him not being able to cope when not staring at the backside of his right-hand man Froomy.

What split the two team-mates on the day was consistency. While Wiggins was fast out of the traps before seeing his legs catch up with him, Froome rode consistently solid throughout, trailing Martin by 23 seconds and then 29 seconds at the first two checks.

Finishing second to the best time triallist of his generation is no mean feat - and the Kenyan-born Froome was quite right to be "over the moon" on discovering he had taken the leader's red jersey. He's certainly come along way since he rode for Barloworld and penned a weekly blog for Eurosport in 2009, that's for sure.

Froome shouldn't get too excited though: over the first 10 days, we have now seen seven different riders in red, with only Sylvain Chavanel having the gumption to keep a hold of the fabled jersey for more than one day.

Of course, things could have been very different on Monday. Had Jakob Fuglsang not lost a chain at the bottom of the ramp, then we may be ending the first half of the race as we began it - with the young Dane in red.

Fuglsang will no doubt be on the phone to Leopard Trek team-mate Andy Schleck, who himself knows a thing or two about the disappointments of slipping a chain.

As for the start ramp in Salamanca - did anyone else notice that the race organisers had actually learnt something from the opening TTT debacle, replacing the steep Tony Hawk-style ramp with a much more gentle affair?

So, going into the first rest day and Team Sky have added to Chris Sutton's stage win last week by taking a red jersey that the vast majority of cycling fans would have banked on shrouding the bony shoulders of Wiggins the messiah.

The team has a bit of a dilemma now: who to ride for? Wiggins, the veteran looking to put right his Tour de France pain, or Froome, the understudy who actually seems to look just as strong, if not more so, than his 'leader'.

Of course, it's a headache team manager Dave Brailsford will relish. What's more, it's still early days and these things tend to have a way of sorting themselves out.

Stage 11 features the race's first HC climb - the summit finish atop the ski station at Manzaneda. Let's see if Froome is still at the top of the pile then before making any slapdash predictions.

And before then, a well-earned rest for everyone concerned - including Saddles. See you on Wednesday, amigos...

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