In February, when Sky's Sir Dave Brailsford was asked about the rivalry between Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, he said it was no longer an issue. "Sorry," he told journalists, "but you've wrung that one dry."
The news that Wiggins will not be participating in the Tour de France, unless – he says – Froome falls injured at the last minute, makes it look as if their much-publicised reconciliation over the winter was a fragile one at best. Have Sky made the right decision in dropping one of their top two riders for the year's biggest race? History is split on the wisdom of the decision. Teams have previously raced with two former winners in their ranks, and the results have been mixed.
Five-time Tour champion Miguel Indurain's father once said his son would have won six had he not had to act as sherpa in 1990 for Pedro Delgado, who failed to take the title. Then in 2009, following a ferocious battle for Tour supremacy between Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador – Astana team-mates and former Tour winners – Contador nonetheless won.
Either way, a final decision on Sky's Tour line-up has yet to be taken. If Froome fails to show similar condition to 2013 in the forthcoming Critérium du Dauphiné, a crucial pre-Tour test of form that he won last year, or if Wiggins smokes the rest of the field in the Tour de Suisse (his last pre-Tour race) then the pressure for the Londoner to gain a last-minute slot next month will surge again.
For now, though, Wiggins is out. In Harrogate on 5 July, the absence of Britain's first Tour winner – a hugely popular one – will be the elephant in the room. From the moment the Tour gets under way, though, it will be the results that provide the definitive verdict on whether Sky were right to leave him at home.
If Froome falls foul of the notoriously difficult and unpredictable cobbles of northern France on stage five, for example, that will weigh against Sky – particularly as Wiggins is unquestionably the most competent of all the Tour stars in such terrain. But should Froome remain in contention throughout the Tour, criticism will quickly wither.
We are in a similar scenario to the 1959 Tour de France, when Federico Bahamontes achieved Spain's first victory after his arch-rival Jesus Lorono was excluded by trainer Dalmacio Langarica from the Spanish team.
Lorono's supporters stoned the national coach's home and set fire to the Spanish federation headquarters; but three weeks later, with Bahamontes victorious, there was nothing but praise for Langarica's decision to centre the team on one rider. If Froome wins it will be a similar story in Paris this year.
But whoever stands in yellow on 27 July, for Wiggins this call is much more of a landmark than his exclusion from the 2013 Tour team. Last year, he was still injured and demoralised following his abandonment of the Giro d'Italia. This time round Wiggins has just comfortably won the Tour of California and performed remarkably well in Paris-Roubaix. He has also been more adamant this year that in the Tour he would have been racing exclusively for Froome.
In the long term, it makes Wiggins's presence at Team Sky increasingly complicated, particularly if he wants to race the Tour again. Where he goes from here – Orica-GreenEdge and F1 driver Fernando Alonso's new team have both been touted as alternatives to Sky – will be one of the big stories of the remainder of the season.Reuse content