Tour de France: War of the Wags hots up as Bradley Wiggins closes in on victory

A Twitter spat between riders' partners is threatening to steal the leader's thunder

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It is the ultimate test of loyalty and strength – and at the end of three weeks of super-human exertion there can only be one winner.

But while Bradley Wiggins remains on course to triumph on the Champs-Elysées on Sunday, becoming the first British winner of the Tour de France, not all is well in the Team Sky camp.

For the final days of the tour have seen a simmering Twitter row – the war of the Wags – that at times has threatened to distract cycling fans from the main action.

At the centre of the spat is Michelle Cound, the blonde South African sports photographer who is the partner of Wiggins' ambitious teammate Chris Froome. She has repeatedly taken umbrage at the support role forced on her boyfriend to boost the senior rider's quest for glory.

In a thinly veiled, and hastily deleted, jibe yesterday, she tweeted: "Team work is also about giving the people around you, that support you, a chance to shine in their own right."

Hostilities first erupted at the end of the 11th stage of the race when Froome was ordered to soft pedal to allow his team captain to catch up and retain the yellow jersey.

The tactic prompted an extraordinary outburst from Ms Cound, who took to Twitter to express her dismay at what she saw as her man's enforced largesse. The tweet was almost immediately followed by one from Catherine Wiggins, praising the other members of team Sky for their selfless professionalism but omitting any mention of Froome.

Ms Cound immediately hit back tweeting: "'Don't think there are many other pro-riders who's partners know more about cycling than Chris's' precisely & I know what happened just then". She then added: "If you want loyalty, get a Froome dog a quality I value although being taken advantage of by others!".

Not to be left out, the partner of one of Wiggins' other teammates, Mark Cavendish, joined in. Peta Todd, a former topless model who has been providing a running commentary on this year's tour, appeared to weigh in on the side of Ms Cound. Cavendish won the 18th stage yesterday with a sensational sprint finish.

While the dispute continues to boil, Wiggins remains strong favourite to take the title tomorrow, with a lead of two minutes and five seconds over the rest of the field. Wiggins, who earlier swore and fumed at users of the social media site who questioned his famous anti-doping stance, has been defiantly loyal to his teammate Froome. "Chris will have his day for sure and I will be there to support him," he said.

Froome's sacrifices have been one of the talking points of this year's tour with many tipping the 27-year-old Kenyan rider as a future winner.

Twitter spat: The war of words

@michellecound Beyond disapointed...

@michellecound If you want loyalty, get a Froome dog... a quality I value... although being taken advantage of by others!

@cathwiggins1981 See Mick Rogers and Richie Porte for examples of genuine, selfless effort and true professionalism.

@michellecound Typical! RT @Cathwiggins1981: See Mick Rogers and Richie Porte for examples of genuine, selfless effort and true professionalism.

@michellecound "Suddenly not so in the mood for Paris on Sunday, what a joke,"