Bradley Wiggins has predicted that his team-mate Chris Froome will win the Tour de France – but not this year – and that the Londoner will be back in the race to help Froome do that.
Speaking on yesterday's rest day, Wiggins said: "The guy is capable of winning the Tour, otherwise he wouldn't be second overall. He'll win this race one day and I'll be there to support him. People will try to make more of a story than it is, but we've proved on the road that there isn't a problem. What we do well is that we're a close group and that's why we are in this position now."
Wiggins and his Sky team-mates face a tough two days in the Pyrenees, and they can ill-afford the hints of splits in the ranks which came after the Toussuire ascent in the Alps where Froome made an unscripted attack that left Wiggins briefly reeling.
Froome has insisted ever since that he will follow team orders, and that he is confident Wiggins will – as the Londoner said yesterday – return the favour of his working selflessly for his team leader. But not this year.
Wiggins insists that he is not over-reacting to the situation of being under constant scrutiny and high pressure as he might have done in the past.
"You can't get so drawn into this that you end up thinking it's a life-or-death situation," Wiggins said. "It used to be like that on the track a few years ago, when I was in the Olympic finals, [thinking] what's going to happen to me, [if I lose] they're going to send me to the gallows. As you get older, your kids get older and they're not bothered about those things and it's that which helps you handle these situations better."
Today's 197-kilometre stage features the Tour's best-known Pyrenean climbs – the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde. There is no summit finish – that is a treat in store for the riders tomorrow – but the relentless saw-toothed edge of four major climbs, plus the arrival of searingly hot weather, could quickly show up any weaknesses.
Vincenzo Nibali, also known as "the Shark of Messina", has been the most dangerous of Wiggins's rivals so far. Assuming Froome toes the party line – and there has been no sign since last week's briefest of digs on the Toussuire that this is not the case – the Sicilian, who is currently 2 min and 23 sec back, is still within striking distance of the yellow jersey.
"Having the last time trial [on Saturday] is a bonus, Bradley can maybe take time back there, but there's no doubt we're feeling the pressure and anything can happen still," said Wiggins's team-mate Edvald Boasson Hagen. "The race isn't over yet."
"If everybody waits until the last climb, Wiggins will win the Tour," French climbing star Richard Virenque predicted in yesterday's Le Figaro. It could blow apart, though, if the other contenders attack early on. And Froome could benefit from that."