Are there any similarities between the Geraint Thomas/Chris Froome axis in 2018 and the Bradley Wiggins/Froome axis – if that’s what you can call it – of 2012? Both rode one and two at the head of the Tour de France peloton and in a commanding manner that suggested a winning outcome for Team Sky. It was just who took the honours.
Sky have been playing down the current rivalry but there is no question that the incredibly talented Thomas, after nearly a decade of loyal service to others, deserves and wants a tilt at the ultimate prize, while Froome would clearly like to equal the record of five Tours and claim his third grand tour in succession. After a winter of unwarranted personal abuse and insinuation Froome is still riding angry and wants to make a host of points
But there are also huge differences. Thomas, from the start this year, has been encouraged to think he was a co-leader and had been granted a free rein at least until the mountain stages when the situation would be reappraised. Wiggins on the other hand went into the 2012 Tour as the clear undisputed leader after wins at Paris-Nice, Romandie and the Dauphiné. Froome, other than an excellent ride at the 2011 Vuelta when he was second and Wiggins third (Wiggins was riding with busted collar bone that was still plated), was not yet the rider he was to become. At least not in public. On their huge training rides on Mount Teide that May I witnessed Froome outperform Wiggins on a gruesome set-piece of four 15-minute climbing efforts. Not by much, but enough to notice.
Froome was the future and contract negotiations were underway for the following season when he had every reason to demand more GC rides. But on an unusually flat Tour in 2012, laden with long flat time-trial miles, Wiggins was undoubtedly the present, the banker
And there were other factors. The third-placed rider in 2012 – let’s be honest a non-vintage year – was a raw Vincenzo Nibali over six minutes behind while fourth-placed Jurgen Van den Broeck was more than 10 minutes off the pace. The only thing that could have denied Sky that year was internal fighting with their top two riders undermining each other. They just about kept a lid on it. In contrast, this year I suspect Tom Dumoulin and Nibali are still very live threats.
Back in 2012 Sky also had a sprinter on board – Mark Cavendish – chasing the green jersey with two riders detailed to help him in Edvald Boasson Hagen and Bernie Eisel. Cav won three stages and crashed out on the run in to two others. With Froome largely riding tail gun to Wiggins and Kanstantsin Sivtsov crashing out in the first week the work load on the Sky domestiques in the mountains was ridiculous. The last thing they needed was an internal GC battle and I suspect that when push comes to shove Sky will still have to make a stark choice again this year.