Chris Froome set up a fascinating final week of the Tour de France by insisting he would be willing to sacrifice a record-equalling fifth title to help Sky team-mate Geraint Thomas win instead.
Thomas and Froome sit first and second in the general classification heading into the final week of the Tour, with Thomas 1min 39secs ahead of his team-mate, who has an 11-second cushion to Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin.
With six days until Paris, leadership of the team has seemingly changed hands.
“As long as there is a Team Sky rider on the top step of the podium in Paris, I’m happy,” said Froome.
Thomas dutifully talked up Froome as leader even after claiming back-to-back mountain stage victories in La Rosiere and Alpe d’Huez earlier in the week, but by Saturday’s stage to Mende he sounded like a man more confident in yellow. On yesterday’s rest day, it was Froome’s turn to say he would be ready to work for Thomas.
Asked directly if he would sacrifice his hopes of a fifth Tour title to help Thomas, Froome simply said: “Yes”.
If this is a leadership battle, it does not appear an acrimonious one to compare with Bernard Hinault and Greg LeMond in 1986, or even Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012.
Thomas and Froome have been team-mates since the latter joined Barloworld in 2008, with both then making the move to Sky when the team launched in 2010.
“We’re good mates,” said Thomas. “We’ve ridden in the same team for a number of years now and we’ve generally lived in the same areas.
“We get on,” he added before breaking out in a grin. “For now”.
Both riders have been careful to say the right things since the Tour began, no doubt conscious that everything could yet change.
Three big stages in the Pyrenees await – today’s run to Bagneres du Luchon, tomorrow’s potentially explosive 65km dash to the summit of the Col du Portet, and Friday’s brutal stage to Laruns, which includes three-quarters of the so-called ‘Circle of Death’.
Thomas must avoid a bad day as he looks to carry a Grand Tour challenge through to the finish for the first time, while Froome must hope his legs hold up as he looks to become the first rider to do a Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.
Team Sky’s Gianni Moscon was disqualified from the race for punching Fortuneo-Samsic rider Elie Gesbert early on stage 15 to Carcassonne and team principal Sir Dave Brailsford is planning to review whether Moscon should face further punishment.