Chris Froome insists Team Sky’s leadership at the Tour de France will be decided on the road.
Former Sky rider Sir Bradley Wiggins has claimed the team would have “a real problem” if Geraint Thomas took the yellow jersey ahead of team-mate Froome.
Sky have talked up the benefits of having Thomas second overall, 43 seconds behind leader Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) and 59 ahead of Froome after nine stages.
Though Sky have reiterated that Froome remains the team leader, Thomas has so far been given licence to race for himself and 2012 winner Wiggins feels it could cause trouble.
“This is where it gets difficult, as we hit first mountain stage,” Wiggins said on his Eurosport show. “If Geraint stays where he is and takes the yellow jersey they’ve got a real problem on their hands.”
Froome played down any talk of friction after finishing a ride on the Tour’s first rest day.
“I think the race, as always, will decide (leadership),” the four-time Tour winner said. “For us it’s fantastic to have different cards to play.
“If you look at all the GC riders, ‘G’ is right up there. It’s for other teams to attack us now.”
Thomas added that it was speculative to discuss it before a single mountain stage.
“I think it’s a bit early to be talking about that,” said Thomas, who enjoyed four days in yellow at the start of last year’s Tour.
“Maybe if I’m still right there after Alpe d’Huez (on Thursday), it’s a bit different then. But we haven’t done a proper climb yet. I’m certainly not getting carried away.”
Asked if he had spoken to Froome about it, Thomas added: “We’ve kind of spoken in general about things. And yeah, he’s keen for me to try, if I do have the chance to stay up there. But we’re honest with each other.”
Froome is looking to make history as he seeks a record-equalling fifth Tour win, a fourth successive Grand Tour victory and becoming the first man to do the Giro-Tour double since Marco Pantani in 1998.
But Wiggins said that team principal Sir Dave Brailsford would be “in the ears” of both riders telling them they can win the Tour.
“Does Dave B come in and do his usual and be quite divisive and get in each other’s ear and kind of keep them both motivated for the same goal and there be a natural selection?” said Wiggins, who was angered by a perceived leadership threat from Froome in 2012.
“Dave will certainly be in both of their ears and be telling them they can both win it, as a way of motivating them, as a way of playing these cards deep into the race and let the natural selections come in to play.”
Wiggins added of Brailsford: “He’s quite self-serving. For him, it’s about the team winning, it’s not about the individuals or the characters.”
Brailsford did not speak to the media on Monday.
Riding as his domestique, Froome finished second to Wiggins in 2012, and memorably appeared to attack his team leader on stage 11 before sitting up and waiting for him – a moment interpreted as Froome showing he was strong enough to win on his own.
But Froome rejected any comparison between that race and this, saying: “It’s a totally different situation (to 2012).”
Thomas could feasibly be in yellow by Tuesday evening as stage 10 takes the peloton over four categorised climbs in 158.5km of racing between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornand, territory which does not suit Van Avermaet.
“We’ll see how these next few days go really,” said the 32-year-old, who is expected to sign a new three-year deal with the team. “There’s no point me doing anything unnecessary.”