A brain-snap or an honest mistake from Chris Froome on Stage 11 exposed momentarily just how well the Brit is going on the climbs of this year's Tour de France, and despite his protestations to the contrary that he is "here to help Brad win the Tour", rekindled memories of last year's Vuelta and a handful of similar scenarios in cycling in the last 25 years, writes Al Hinds.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

It was almost comical the way Froome accelerated and then, stopped, almost "track standing" as Richard Moore described it, as he heard over team radio from Team Sky's Sean Yates that Wiggins was in difficulty.

Froome, the consummate team-mate, slowed, and rode tempo for the remainder of the ascent of La Toussuire, and explained post-stage that having brought Wiggins back to the main danger of the Vincenzo Nibali and Jurgen van den Broeck escape, assumed he'd be able to have a go himself.

But when he did go, Nibali and van den Broeck, who realised the prospect of having the de facto second overall up the road was an undesirable one, scrambled to chase. Wiggins meanwhile showed the first chinks in his so far invunerable 2012 armour by cracking.

Was it a just a bad day for Wiggins, or were we seeing the first signs of a swing in the relative strengths of Team Sky's two captains, from the master to the disciple? When Wiggins and Froome were working together at the 2011 Vuelta, the same questions were asked. Exactly who was leader?

Of note was the strange situation that occurred on the Vuelta's eleventh stage when Froome, wearing the red leader's jersey actually helped Wiggins to take the jersey for himself.

This came a day after Froome had bettered Wiggins in a flat individual time trial, and outperformed the former Olympic champion on the climbs.

Days later Wiggins would crack in the mountains, and the initial pause from Froome to help his leader, as well as the energy expended in the previous week arguably denied the Kenyan-born the overall win.

The final margin to Juan Jose Cobo of Movistar was a tiny 13 seconds. Sky's stubbornness in keeping Wiggins as leader ultimately cost it, and Froome.

So far the team have been saved any embarrassment with Wiggins at least trumping Froome in the two individual time trials, and perhaps tensions have been further eased because of the latter's puncture on Stage 1 which cost him valuable time, and buffering the two from being in direct competition.

Of course, the narrative of an elder, more experienced rider being out-shone by a younger team-mate is not a new one.

Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault went head-to-head as team-mates in 1986 despite 'the badger' claiming he would support the American, after LeMond had done the same for him in '85. An at times confusing support from Hinault, included the five-time Tour winner attacking LeMond and the other favourites to 'soften' the field. LeMond would go on to win the first of his three Tours de France, while Hinault's runner-up finish would be his last appearance at the Grand Boucle.

In 1996, Bjarne Riis's Tour win* was heavily influenced by the arrival on the scene of German wunderkind Jan Ullrich, who, like Froome at the Vuelta, beat Riis in one of the race's time trials. Ullrich was described by defending champion Miguel Indurain as "remarkable that he was as strong as he was all while helping Riis take yellow". Ullrich would finish second, and go on to win the next year's Tour. And Riis, well, we all remember this.

Cunego and Simoni were at logger heads at the 2004 Giro d'Italia when the younger Italian upstaged the then defending champion. Simoni was clearly unimpressed by his team-mate when Cunego, dubbed 'the little prince' initially donned the maglia rosa, and the relationships between the two was icy for the remainder of the race.

Of course it's unclear how much tension there is between Froome and Wiggins, and I won't dare to speculate. In fact the actions of Froome by and large so far, notably the slow pacing back to Nibali and van den Broeck suggest he's quite at peace with his role.

And in the media, at least for now Froome remains adamant he'll be helping Wiggins all the way to Paris.

But we'll see what the rest of the race brings - it'll be interesting to see how such servitude is tested should Wiggins falter, even slightly, again.

"Maybe I can win the Tour one day," Froome said after the stage, "thanks for the compliment (after a member of the press suggested he could win). "But I think Bradley's in a better position to win this year, and I'm here to support him."