The smoke blew over somewhat after Stage 14, once defending champion Froome regained the yellow jersey from Fabio Aru (Astana), but it was a central point of focus in the morning.
Portal, Froome and principal David Brailsford were all quoting from the same script, referencing tactical advantage when asked of a rumoured divide and potential mutiny that has gained momentum over the last few days.
On Stage 13, purported maverick Landa more than halved his deficit to then-race leader Aru and jumped to fifth overall after making the successful escape of the day. Brailsford observed the positioning meant that rivals would as a result have to shoulder more pressure and the onus to work moving forward.
But Landa’s apparent divisive history with other squads and general team moves in the Pyrenees fuelled hearsay that the off-contract Spaniard could defy Sky’s Plan A in Froome and ride for the maillot jaune himself.
Speaking before the start of stage 14, Portal was clear that Froome was the leader of the team but added it always had three others that could play a “big role” at the Tour in Landa, Sergio Henao, who has lost time, and Geraint Thomas, who abandoned.
“There is speculation but for us we brought Mikel here because he is strong. He is always strong in the second and third week and we’re going to protect him here,” Portal said.
“Froomey is still number one but we want to win the race with Sky. There is a good ambience between the two and between the guys and that is it.”
It wasn’t so much Landa’s position in the escape on stage 13 rather that Froome and teammate Michal Kwiatkowski contributed to the chase in the yellow jersey group that provoked some pundits to question the party line coming from the team.
Landa didn’t appear prepared or interested in a stage win on the home straight, evidence that could dampen such speculation. However, it came after the 27-year-old gapped Froome on Peyragudes, where the latter proved fallible, although Sky later said he had permission to go for victory.
“The big plan was for Mikel to ride and gain some time and for us to control all the others because there were two Sky jerseys in the second group,” Portal reflected on stage 13.
“Maybe today or tomorrow we can do the same thing and Mikel can get even closer, or why not in yellow. This is all about the other teams, if they believe we’re going to stick with Froomey or if they believe we’re going to play or not. This is our card and it’s a strong card.”
Landa remains fifth overall, 1m19s behind teammate Froome, who has a 19-second buffer on Aru after stage 14 to Rodez.