Chris Froome reaffirmed his Team Sky top-dog status by winning the Criterium du Dauphiné opening-day time trial amid continuing debate over whether Bradley Wiggins should ride in the Tour de France.
Last year's Tour de France winner beat Tinkoff – Saxo's Alberto Contador – the man seen as Froome's biggest challenger for the Tour – by eight seconds on the short course showing some forceful riding, but later refused to be drawn on Wiggins' comments claiming he will not be riding the Tour.
Vincenzo Nibali, who will be Movistar's leader at the Tour and another of Froome's biggest rivals for the general classification, took the polka dotted mountain jersey with the best time at the stage's only climb but was unable to keep up the pace and faded towards the end.
Wiggins, the 2012 Tour de France winner, claimed in an interview with BBC earlier this week that Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Sky's principal, had told him he should concentrate on preparing for late July's Commonwealth Games, indicating that Wiggins would not be helping Froome at the Tour.
Froome, however, refused to comment extensively on his teammate's claims but insisted, as Brailsford did in the Sunday Times, that the team's Tour de France squad selection was not yet finalised and the make-up of the team was not up to him.
“For now my focus is on the Dauphiné and getting through that as best as I can,” said the 29-year-old Briton.
“His [Wiggins’s] focus is on the Tour de Suisse but the Tour de France team has definitely not been selected. It’s not something that’s going to be selected between the riders. It’s a management decision as to what’s the best team going into the Tour.”
The disagreements between Sky's two biggest stars are well documented and Froome evaded questions about whether he wanted Wiggins supporting him when the Tour takes off in early July on British soil. “Again, my focus is on the Dauphiné. We can talk about the Tour afterwards,” was his only comment.
Recently Brailsford has said that it is he, rather than Froome, who picks Sky's Tour nine-man line-up but it is widely believed that Froome's view regarding team selection carries significant weight and Brailsford admitted last month that the team would “take soundings” from their star man.
“In building the team I have to take the group dynamic into consideration,” Brailsford said. “Trust and harmony are important considerations and it’s a difficult decision. I’m not just talking about the harmony between Chris and Brad but harmony amongst all the riders and staff.
“People should be careful before thinking Chris is making decisions here. Chris is a great bike rider, he deserves to lead our team but ultimately he doesn’t pick the team.”
Sky's team leader Froome expressed some surprise to be defending the leader's yellow jersey so soon in the Dauphiné and claimed he did not expect to win the stage.
“I’m a bit surprised to be honest, I didn’t expect to win,” he said. “It’s a result that confirms the work done in training and the fact that I’m in form.
“During the course I didn’t have any information regarding the times of my rivals, I preferred to just focus on myself and what I was doing. I only knew that the final 4km were difficult going into the wind, so I saved my strength for that part.”
The Dauphiné is the final Tour de France preparation race for several of cycling's biggest stars, including favourites Froome, Contador and Nibali, and provides a good gauge ahead of the prestigious Franch grand tour.
Monday's second stage, featuring a summit finish on Col du Béal, will reveal the climbing form of the general classification riders, many of whom have not raced for more than a month. The race ends on Sunday.
Write for GiveMeSport! Sign-up to the GMS Writing Academy here: http://gms.to/1a2u3KU